If you take a quick look around the web, you will find an abundance of recipes for pasta tossed with a combination of Ricotta Cheese and Swiss Chard (or beet greens... or spinach... ricotta seems to have a universally acknowledged affinity for these dark green, leafy members of the Goosefoot family). I know this because I turned to the web for inspiration one evening a few weeks ago when I happened to have these two items in my pantry. And inspired I was—the pasta I eventually made for dinner that night was very good...an interesting and flavorful interplay of bitter, salty and sweet.
When I made my pasta, I drew most heavily on the recipes I found at Food52 and Whipped. The recipe at Food52 includes bacon and lemon zest. I have never made my version with bacon—but I think the bacon is a good idea. The sweet ricotta and bitter chard seem to require something salty. Thinly sliced, julienned prosciutto, added at the end with the chard, would also fill the bill. For my pasta I chose to get that nice salty tang from some aged Pecorino Romano.
As for the lemon, the first time I made this pasta I did include some zest. I wasn't too crazy about it. Perhaps it was my mood on that day, but I found it to be a bit jarring in combination with the other flavors. I should however point out that it is a popular addition and appears in many recipes that feature this combination of ricotta, chard and pasta. If you add it, you might find that you like it.
The remaining ingredients—garlic, nutmeg and walnuts—came from the recipe I found at Whipped. The garlic and nutmeg seem essential. The sweetness of garlic is almost never a bad idea with bitter greens...and it really adds some depth of flavor to this pasta. Use a nice fat clove. The nutmeg too adds a sweet and aromatic undercurrent...and is traditional with the ricotta. You don't need a lot—a pinch truly is sufficient (you aren't making dessert)—but I was surprised that I noticed its absence the one time I made this dish without it. Use freshly grated if you can.
As for the walnuts, they were simply my preference. The recipe at Food52 uses pine nuts...and I'm sure they would be good...but I thought the walnuts were a better choice. Their bitterness is a nice foil for the creamy, sweet ricotta...and they are particularly good when paired with Pecorino. They were perfect for this dish.
As we move into the growing season, I am looking forward to sampling this pasta with the beautiful, tender greens that always make their way to my farmers' market in the spring and early summer. If you happen to be looking for a way to use up some of the chard (or spinach...or beet greens...) that you purchase at the market...or find in your CSA box...I hope you will give this recipe a try. It has already become a favorite at our house.
Linguine with Swiss Chard, Ricotta & Walnuts
1 bunch Red Chard, ribs removed and leaves cut cross-wise in 1/4- to 1/2-inch ribbons
2 to 3 T. olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
a generous pinch hot pepper flakes
1/2 lb. linguine
3 1/2 to 4 oz. (1/2 cup) whole milk ricotta
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Pecorino
1 oz. (1/4 cup) walnuts, lightly toasted and finely chopped
Rinse the chard in several changes of water. Transfer to a colander and set aside.
Place a tablespoon of oil in a wide sauté pan with the garlic and pepper flakes. Place the pan over moderate heat and cook until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant. Add the chard (along with any water clinging to the leaves) to the pan a handful at a time. Using a tongs, turn the chard to coat it in the oil as you add each successive handful to the pan. Season very sparingly with salt (the volume of greens is going to reduce significantly) and increase the heat to moderately high. Cook until the chard has collapsed. Reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook, stirring/turning occasionally, until the chard is tender, all of the water has evaporated and the collapsed chard has begun to sizzle a bit in the oil. If the chard is not yet tender when the water has evaporated, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pan and continue to cook until tender. Uncover and set aside.
While the chard cooks, place the ricotta in a small bowl along with a pinch of nutmeg, a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 T?) and some freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until smooth and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Season well with salt (it should taste salty—you'll want at least 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per quart of water). Add the linguine and cook until almost al dente. Ladle out a cup or so of the pasta water and continue to cook the pasta.
Add a quarter cup of the pasta water to the ricotta and whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the Pecorino. Taste and add salt if necessary.
When the linguine is al dente, drain in a colander. Return the linguine to the pot and add the chard along with a drizzle (1/2 T.?) of olive oil and half of the walnuts. Toss to separate and distribute the chard. Pour the ricotta mixture over and toss, adding more pasta water as necessary to obtain a light, smooth sauce that clings to the pasta, but is not sticky or tight (you may need as much as another 4 to 5 tablespoons of pasta water). If you like, finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Divide the pasta among serving plates and top with the remaining walnuts and Pecorino. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée.
Note: Recipe is easily be doubled to serve 5 or 6.