Please feel free to make this without penne, just skip past all the penne instructions. When I make it without pasta, I prefer the soupier version and a fair amount of grated pecorino (on the left in the above photo). Leave the anchovies out if you don’t like them or if you’d like to make this a vegetarian dish.
Makes 2 servings
1 small head escarole
¼ pound (i.e. ¼ box) regular or whole-wheat penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic (less, if you like)
2 anchovy fillets
A healthy pinch or two of crushed red pepper
1 cup cooked or canned white beans, if using canned, drain and rinse them
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
A piece of pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, throw in a couple of good pinches of salt.
Meanwhile, prep the escarole: Pull off any dark, wilted or yellowing leaves. Cut the head in half through the core, then cut out the core. Cut the halves into 1-inch (or so) squares. Wash them (see Note) and spin them dry in a salad spinner. You should have about 8 lightly packed cups. It sounds like a lot, but as with all leafy greens they will shrink radically when you cook them.
Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch or so) skillet over medium heat. While that’s heating up, slice the garlic thinly. Add the garlic to the oil along with the red pepper and anchovies, if you’re using them. Shake the pan until the garlic starts to brown around the edges and the anchovies “melt,” about 3 minutes.
Stir about half the escarole into the skillet and stir until it wilts enough to add the rest of the escarole. Stir the second batch until it is wilted, then add the beans and broth. Heat to boiling.
Stir the ziti into the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally (a little more than occasionally right after adding the pasta) until the pasta is cooked to your taste, about 9 minutes for al dente, a minute or two longer for more tender ziti.
By the time the ziti is in the pot for a minute or two, the escarole and beans should be boiling. You have a choice: cook for just a few minutes for escarole with more bite and a soupier sauce or cook until the escarole is tender and the broth is almost completely gone. (I’m no help making a decision here. I like it both ways). In either case, the escarole and beans will probably be done before the ziti is tender. Just pull the skillet off the heat and let it sit.
Ladle about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water into the escarole and beans (do this even if you opted for the drier sauce). Drain the ziti and return it to the pot. Add the escarole and white beans and stir over low heat until everything is mixed together. Taste and add a little salt (most likely you won’t need it if you used the anchovies). Spoon into shallow bowls and, using a vegetable peeler, shave some cheese over each serving.
Note: Washing Greens
The easiest way to wash a large amount of greens is in your kitchen sink. Clean the sink with soap and water and rinse it thoroughly. While you are prepping the greens, run cool water to fill the sink about halfway. Put the prepped greens into the sinkful of water and swish them around a bit. Let them sit for a minute or so to give the dirt and grit a chance to settle to the bottom. Swish and let stand again. With your hands, lift the greens to a large colander to drain. If the greens still feel gritty or if there is a lot of dirt and grit that has settled to the bottom of the sink, drain the water, rinse the sink and repeat the washing. Use a salad spinner to spin the clean greens dry in batches.