This recipe for pasta with bright-tasting Swiss chard pesto is yet another inspired by our recent travels to California; this dish echoes one of a table-ful of small plates we loved at Chalkboard in Healdsburg, CA.
There, the pesto was made with kale; here at home, I have a lush row of Swiss chard in my garden, so I made the swap. At Chalkboard, the dish was gorgeous: homemade Mafaldine pasta (a long ruffled noodle, like an inch-wide lasagne) in a pool of velvety green sauce. The pesto was so smooth, with a kick of spice; a second look at the menu revealed a bit of creme fraiche and Calabrian pepper.
When we got home, I quickly whipped up a batch of simple Swiss chard pesto, whisked in a tablespoon of creme fraiche and added a pinch of Aleppo pepper. Aleppo is a global secret ingredient: spicy but not hot, bright but not sharp, with a fruity undertone. (If you don’t have Aleppo, start with a tiny pinch of cayenne, then adjust the heat level to suit your taste.)
I used a long ruffled pasta called Riccia Lunga from the Rustichella d/Abruzzo brand (which I like very much). If you don’t feel like hunting for a specialty pasta, any good sauce-holding shape, like penne, orecchiette or farfalle, will do. Take the time to puree the pesto until it looks like green velvet.
Enjoy this little taste of Wine Country!
pasta with Swiss chard pesto and creme fraiche recipe
5 large leaves Swiss chard, center stems removed
3 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
1 tablespoon chopped garlic scapes (or 1 clove garlic, chopped)
1/2 cup mild olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
Pinch of aleppo pepper (or cayenne to taste)
1/2 pound dried pasta such as Mafaldine or Lasagnette or other ruffled shape like farfalle
Grated Pecorino Romano for serving
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chard leaves briefly to chop. Add almonds, garlic scapes (or garlic), olive oil and lemon juice; process until the pesto is smooth and velvety, about 2–3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. In a bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons creme fraiche; add a pinch of aleppo or cayenne pepper to create just a spark of heat.
Cook pasta according to directions; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of hot cooking water. Return pasta to pot and, over low heat, toss with the pesto-creme fraiche mixture, adding a bit of cooking liquid to make a sauce and another tablespoon of pesto if needed. You want a generous coating of pesto on the pasta. Divide pasta among 4 serving bowls and top each with a generous shower of Pecorino.