Monday, July 09, 2007

Alfredo Who?

Back in the day, before just looking at rich foods put on pounds, I would often whip up a mean Alfredo sauce for a group of friends on a Sunday night after we'd spent a day in the pool, and were settled in for the evening with a tall Scotch and soda and a classic movie spinning off the VCR. It was the quick and easy comfort food that appealed to all of us, with the sharp bite of a good freshly grated Parmesan and the rich, mouth feel of butter and cream, all lavishly laced over pasta cooked to al dente perfection.

What a delightful surprise to run across this quick, easy, fresh dish of pasta with ricotta, Parmesan and fresh spinach. The feel is much like Alfredo but the overall calorie count is much reduced. I love the little nest of freshly grated Regianno perched atop the pasta, don't you? It looks like a lot of cheese, but the marvelous rasp produces a virtual mound with just a couple of scrapes across the cheese. Hardly worth counting those calories, right?

This along with some 69 other summer recipes are featured in fresh - The Best of fine Cooking from the folks at Taunton Press. Check it out.

Fusilli is suggested, but I had multi-grain, tiny penne on hand, which worked just as well. Using a ridged pasta helps to catch the sauce, assuring each bite is equally flavorful. The following set of instructions makes enough to serve six. I cut everything in half and had three generous servings.

Ingredients: 3/4 - 1lb fresh spinach, stemmed, washed and cut into chiffonade; 2 TBS olive oil, 4 small scallions, thinly sliced (I used two shallots). Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt; 1 cup ricotta cheese, preferably fresh; 1 cup half and half; pinch of nutmeg; 1 TBS unsalted butter; 1 lb fusilli or penne pasta; 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Directions: Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add about 1 Tbs. salt.
Prepare spinach in chiffonade. Stack several leaves at a time, roll up and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over med-high heat. Add the scallions or shallots and cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan. For a bit of a kick, add some dried red pepper flakes.(optional). Cover and steam until leaves are wilted but still bright green, stirring up from the bottom of the pan as needed.

In a small bowl, stir the ricotta, half and half and a few gratings of nutmeg. Stir the ricotta mixture and the butter into the skillet with the spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, about 12 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain well and return the pasta to its pot over low heat. Add the spinach mixture and enough of the reserved cooking water to make a sauce that lightly coats the pasta. Toss thoroughly. Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl or individual bowls and top with grated cheese and a few fresh grinds of pepper.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

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