When I first moved in with Jack, I got off on the wrong foot with one of our neighbors. Sadly for me, this same neighbor is a great chef who served one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten at the Napa wine auction that year, but have always been afraid to ask for the recipe.
When we visit one of his restaurants, Pizza Azzuro or Norman Rose, I scan the menu looking for that dish. But it’s never there.
The pasta dish was made with acini di pepe, a tiny, tiny pasta shape Italians serve babies, with a mix of vegetables diced nearly as small. I really like acini di pepe; it’s comfort food at its best — filling, tasty and you can eat it with a spoon — and it lets the other ingredients strut their stuff.
As time has marched on, I can only remember how much I loved that pasta dish and not everything that was in it. It was for the most part simple and I’m guessing a lot of the flavor was butter. I do know it didn’t have any kale, but it did have zucchini and Parmigiano—lots of it.
This is the next best mix I’ve been able to create. No butter, but lots of buttery olive oil and nutty Parmigiano mixed with the bitter kale and oh yes, the last summer squash.
Acini di Pepe with Kale
What to drink: Chianti Classico. We just discovered Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico ($20ish retail) at Cotogna in San Francisco. The brilliant David Lynch has created a wine list that has a flat rate for every bottle ($40), making ordering really about what’s inside the bottle and not your wallet.
12 ounces acini di pepe
1 bunch kale, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 small yellow squash, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
3 ounces Parmigiano, grated
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 9 minutes.
Wash and dry the kale. Put it in a large bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and garlic and cook until barely tender, 2 to 4 minutes, stirring too cook evenly.
Drain the pasta, reserving a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of the water. Pour the pasta and reserved water over the kale. Add the squash and the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil (the better the oil, the better the finished dish will taste) and stir until the kale is wilted completely. Let cool slightly. Stir in the Parmigiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature.