Chard and Chickpea Pasta with Golden Raisins

dsc_1296

I’m Catholic.  For a few years I was related to a bishop by marriage. I attended a Franciscan parish throughout childhood. I can pray in English, Spanish, and Latin. There was even a summer in high school when I went to Mass every morning, although that might have been more for seeing my then-boyfriend than for spiritual nourishment.

But my relationship to my childhood faith has changed. It changed for a million reasons. Some of these are benign- studying at a Lutheran college, marrying a Protestant, attending Anglican services while living in England. Others are not. I’ve had deep qualms with the theology and disgusts with the institution. I walked out of Mass once when a Priest compared the Affordable Care Act to Maoist persecution of religion and the congregation applauded. I’ve seen fellow Catholics defending the Muslim ban, conveniently forgetting that a hundred years ago our faith was targeted in the same way. But I keep being drawn back to the Church, with reservations and with uncertainty. For all of its flaws and darkness, Catholicism is still the way I best understand God.

This week marked the beginning of Lent. Lent is one of my absolute favorite times of year. I love it for many of the same reasons as I love New Year’s. There’s an austerity and a resolve. At Mass on Ash Wednesday the priest spoke about how Lent is not a time of punishment, but of reflection. That it doesn’t exist because we are bad, but because we can be better. Lent is an invitation.

Rituals matter. And these rituals are one aspect that keeps dragging me back to the Church, over my anger and over my concerns and over my doubts.

Not to find theology lessons in my dinner, but I find meals like this particularly suited for Lent. They are simple and nourishing. There is time for questions and contemplation. Meals are rituals just as the liturgical calendar is.

But onto the pasta. Pasta is one of my favorite meals- I make it two or three times a week. Sometimes I avoid posting pasta here so I have make other foods. My most made pasta is a fail safe formula of greens and seasonings and a can of beans. It’s sustained me for many quick lunches, back-of-the-pocket dinners, and lazy date nights involving Netflix.

Here, we get the greens in beautiful rainbow chard. The stems are sauteed in a healthy dose of olive oil with garlic, capers, and golden raisins. The leaves are added in thin ribbons with a can of chickpeas, and the whole dish is topped with a good handful of feta cheese and a flurry of chopped walnuts.For a bowl of food that looks quite monochromatic it tastes like sunshine- here earthy, here a hint of sweetness, here the mellow richness of garlic. It’s a slightly Greek-esque pasta, hearty and full of good things. Having never been to Greece, I imagine this pasta would be perfect to eat on a rooftop overlooking the sea. As it is it’s perfect to eat at a dining room table, huddling in from the cold, glorying in the mundane.

dsc_1245

Chard and Chickpea Pasta with Golden Raisins

If you do eat fish, I would highly recommend adding two or three anchovies in with the olive oil. They melt into the oil and make everything taste just a bit more savory and a bit more like the sea.

Serves 2-4

8 ounces fusilli or other short pasta (I like whole wheat for this)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large bunch of rainbow chard, stems diced, leaves sliced into thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
feta, for serving
chopped walnuts, for serving

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a good amount of salt to the water.

While the water boils, warm the olive oil in another large pot over low heat. Add the chard stems, garlic, golden raisins, capers, and red pepper flakes with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until everything is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Cook the fusilli according to the packaged directions, until it has just a bit of bite left. Meanwhile, add the chard leaves and chickpeas to the chard stem mixture and stir well. Let it cook until the chard leaves are beginning to collapse. If the pot runs dry,  add a bit of water. Taste everything, and add salt as necessary.

When the pasta is ready, add about 1/4 cup pasta water to the chard mixture, then drain the pasta and add to the chard. Toss well, and turn the heat up to medium just long enough for the water to reduce.

Serve hot, topped with feta cheese and walnuts.

Standard

Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

dsc_0024

It’s that time of year now 6pm is as dark as midnight, and there are less people about at night. Last night I was heading home from Mass, a fifteen minute walk. As I started walking I fired off a text to Aaron. And then I saw out the corner of my eye an older man cross the street and fall into step behind me.

I could see his reflection in the dark store windows. When I slowed my steps to feint admiration for bridal gowns, his steps slowed. When I sped up he did the same. When I started to avoid leaves and quieted my footsteps his became near silent. And when I turned away from the park that would lead me home and towards a bustling strip of restaurants he turned as well.

I abandoned subtlety and started looking back, making sure he knew I saw him. There were more people about here, and it was brighter lit, and I could still see him bobbing through the crowds. An alternate route home would take twice as long to walk, and wouldn’t be much safer. Feeling frustrated and slightly foolish, I called Aaron.

“I think there’s someone following me. Can you pick me up?”

I looped back to the church, where I waited in the lobby. Aaron was over in a matter of minutes. The whole time, I could not shake the feeling that I had overreacted. Was I just being ridiculous? That did not stop me from scrolling through local new sources on twitter before bed, hoping not to hear of some other woman alone being attacked.

I’m tired of this. I’ve long since observed the cardinal rules about caution- don’t walk anywhere poorly lit, don’t take shortcuts, memorize the faces of people you see, always have an escape route. I’m tired of having to take these precautions. I’m tired of being catcalled. I’m tired of reflexively listening to footsteps. And I’m tired of the truth that if I had been attacked, there would have been people who insist that it was my fault, that by somehow walking home alone (at 7:30, from church) I was inviting an attack on my person.

It’s a microcosm of how I’ve been feeling this election. I joke with friends that I’ll exhale once the election is over. But it’s not a joke. Weeks ago when the Access Hollywood tape was released I met it with resignation. When there was an uproar in Republican ranks that made me angry. This is a man who has threatened so many. Why is this is the line in the sand that you decided?

There has been such ugliness and such hatred in the recent months. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough. It won’t make everything better, but it may be a turning point, and that’s all I can hope for right now.

I have no good answers for this. There’s no recipe that can create civil public discourse, no cookie that makes women feel safe to move through public spaces unharmed. Soup won’t end wars. But food has always been a touchstone for me.

Today, a day after being followed and a day before the election, I’ve turned to cooking. It’s serving as a  comfort and as a way to keep busy. If I’m occupying myself with food, I can’t endlessly refresh fivethirtyeight. And I can’t single handedly fix our electorate but I can feed people. The optimist in me believes that enough shared meals with enough people can help us change the way we view the other.

This is not a one pot dinner or a thirty minute meal. This has multiple components and loads of dirty dishes. If that’s what you’re not looking for, that’s more than fair. I understand. But if you’re looking for something that will occupy and sooth you, you could do worse thank this. Roasted acorn squash, sautéed kale, sage, and a clever sauce of blended beans all get tossed together with pasta. The pasta gets turned out into a pan and topped with walnuts, more sage, and ricotta cheese. The result is melty and comforting, creamy and full of flavor.

Stay sane, stay safe. And may there be many comforting meals heading your way.

dsc_0062

Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

If you would like a very creamy pasta bake I would use two cans of butter beans rather than the suggested one.

very roughly adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Serves 6

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 pound short pasta of choice
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15 ounce can butter beans with their liquid
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sage, minced
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup ricotta

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl toss together the acorn squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 350.

Set a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously, then add the pasta. Cook at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, for two minutes less than the pasta package calls for. Drain while there’s still some bite in the center of the pasta. Set aside.

In a medium pot warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale and stir, cooking until the kale is glossy, dark, and has collapsed a bit. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The garlic should be fragrant. Set aside.

In a blender combine the butter beans and liquid, 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the squash, pasta, kale, bean sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sage. Mix well. Turn out into a 9 x 13 pan. Top the pasta with dots of ricotta, walnuts, and the remaining tablespoon of sage.

Bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the ricotta is golden. Eat hot.

 

Standard