Pasta With Collards and Tomatoes

Ahhh, leafy greens. SO good for you, full of vitamins and calcium and all sorts of health-producing, cancer-busting stuff. But some of them? Sorta scary. Big and tough looking, and reputed to be . . . bitter. Blech, right? Not if you play 'em right, my friends.

Case in point: These collards. You get a heck of a lot of collards here and they're tender and tasty and they add to this dish a certain, well, earthiness that goes so well with the whole wheat pasta. Collards are a nutritional powerhouse - they may have more cholesterol-lowering benefit than any other vegetable in their family, and they're also known for having exceptional antioxidant properties.

This recipe garnered another surprised two thumbs up from D., who is leery of me putting greens in everything (he is mortified by my every-a.m. giant green smoothie). Use it to satisfy your hankering for pasta with red sauce, and rest assured that you're getting your fix in a most healthful way.

Pasta With Collards and Tomatoes

1 bunch collard greens, washed, dried, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
1 oz. bacon (about 1 thick slice, omit if you want this veg or vegan)
cooking spray or olive oil mister
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 (28-oz.) package diced tomatoes, with liquid (remember to try for Pomi or some other BPA-free brand)
1/8 c. water
4 oz. medium-sized whole wheat pasta (I used penne, shells would be good too)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (or a vegan alternative, if you like)

Put a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water on to boil for cooking pasta.

Put the collards in a covered, microwave-safe bowl (I love my glass Pyrex bowls for things like this). Microwave for one minute and check to see if they're just tender. If they are, drain them, rinse them with cold water, drain again, and set aside. If not, microwave in 30-second increments until tender, then drain, rinse, repeat. You don't want to over-cook these - that's when they emit that odor you might associate with cruciferous veg. You're going to cook them for a few more minutes at the end of the recipe, so go light here.

Cook the bacon on a microwave-safe plate, between two paper towels, for about 45 seconds or until crisp. Remove, let crisp, and then chop finely.

Spray a large skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, for 30 to 60 seconds. Add the bacon, tomatoes and water; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

As the sauce thickens, cook the pasta until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

Add the pasta, collards and a little of the reserved pasta-cooking water to the tomato sauce. Heat, stirring, until the pasta has absorbed some of the flavors, about 1 minute, adding more reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into pasta bowls, sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Serves 2, but this can be easily doubled to serve 4.

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