I often throw together this pasta (a one-stop meal!) when I've had a long, busy day. The only thing I need to buy is the chicory — the rest of the ingredients have a permanent spot in my pantry — so I don't even have to come up with a shopping list.
Prepping the ingredients for this recipe is easy enough, so the dish comes together rather quickly and that's just what this hungry, tired cook needs on such nights!
But the best part about this bowl of pasta is that every bite is as delicious as it is nourishing. The earthy greens, the spicy chile peppers, the chewy pasta, the savory, crunchy breadcrumbs — everything you could possibly want, or crave — is in this one beautiful bowl.
For the toasted breadcrumbs:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat a small heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and breadcrumbs, stir until the breadcrumbs are well coated with the oil, and sauté until golden-brown, for 5-6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and add the Parmesan. Toss with a fork until the cheese has melted, making sure the breadcrumbs don't clump up. Set aside.
For the pasta:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized red onion, quartered and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
4 large cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
One 1 1/2-pound head chicory or escarole, leaves cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon plus 3/4-1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 quarts water
12 ounces ziti
1/2 cup vegetable stock or pasta cooking water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onion, and red pepper flakes. Stir well and sauté until the onion is golden, for 6-8 minutes, stirring only occasionally. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the garlic has released its flavor but doesn't take on any color, for 30 seconds.
Increase the heat to high and add half the chicory. Sauté, tossing constantly as if you were tossing a salad, until the chicory has wilted. Add the remaining chicory and sauté, tossing constantly until wilted and all juices have evaporated. Season with ¾-1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the remaining salt and the ziti. Boil until tender but still al dente. Drain well and reserve ½ cup cooking water if not using vegetable stock.
Return the skillet to the stove and reheat the chicory over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to sizzle, quickly add the pasta, stock (or reserved pasta water), and pine nuts. Toss well, until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Spoon into warm pasta bowls, top with the breadcrumbs, and serve immediately.