Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Conchiglie Pasta with Gorgonzola and Garden Orache Recipe

The supermarkets in Geneva carry a great deal of local, organic ingredients, and this week I saw a plant I’d never seen before. Marked rare species on the label, arroche des jardins, or garden orache in English, is an unusual plant in the Chenopodium genus, and related to the plant I found at the market in Turkey last summer and used in börek. This orache has deep red, tender leaves, the color of radicchio, an association I made which led my thoughts to Italy, and then, to the Italian part of Switzerland, to Ticino.

A bike trip through Ticino for my 33rd birthday remains one of the highlights of all my travels. We cycled along the Lago Maggiore to Locarno, where, after exploring the old town by foot, we passed leisurely afternoons eating polenta and risotto, and sipping cappuccinos in the Piazza Grande. In the sunny, sub-tropical climate, the mildest in Switzerland, palm trees and magnolias are common, and a strange sight when brisk, generally overcast Geneva is your usual. We took a heart-stopping train ride through the Centovalli and, among the alpine streams waterfalling dramatically to valleys below, we chugged by little stone huts called grottos, restaurants serving typically Ticinese fare. I had fantasies, then, of moving to Locarno, learning Italian, spending my days hiking and biking these gorgeous valleys, stopping over from time to time for a meal in a grotto, or a swim in the lake, the mountainous views occasionally punctuated by the colorful mix of medieval and modernist architecture.

In the store, I ripped off a bit of one of the leaves of the arroche des jardins and tasted it. Lacking the bitterness and textural heft of radicchio, if my eyes had been closed, I would have guessed Swiss chard. How appropriate. The resulting delectable pasta dish can be made classically with that radicchio, but I might also try it with Swiss chard, or another green that won’t wilt dramatically under a little heat. Our primi piatti that evening, it was difficult to stop eating in order to make room for the seared lamb and lemony eggplant I made to break in our new grill. Ticino, on our little balcony.

Conchiglie (Pasta Shells) with Gorgonzola and Garden Orache (or Radicchio) Recipe

1 pound conchiglie pasta (pasta shells)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 pound gorgonzola cheese
2/3 cup heavy cream
approximately 1 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste
one bunch garden orache (who knows; perhaps some of you grow it?), radicchio, Swiss chard, or other sturdy green, torn into medium-sized pieces

Heat a large, salted, pot of water until boiling. Add the pasta shells and cook according to package directions, being careful not to over cook.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion, and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, and stir a couple of times, being careful not to burn it. Lower the heat a bit, add the gorgonzola cheese, and let it melt completely, stirring constantly. When the cheese is melted, you may add the cream and the milk (pour slowly, you don’t want your sauce to be too thick or too thin), and heat the sauce gently, until it reaches the desired consistency. If your sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta’s cooking water, or more milk. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, add the arroche des jardins, or the Swiss chard, and stir until the leaves are just wilted. Incorporate the pasta with the sauce, and serve immediately.

Note: If you are using radicchio, I might cook it a bit on it's own before adding it to the onion mixture and the cheese and cream. Since it is a bit sturdy, cooking it lightly will soften it just enough.

Similar recipes from A Hungry Bear Won't Dance: Creamy, Thyme Scented Fusilli, with Purple Asparagus, Green Peas, and Bacon Recipe