Though not truly wild like garlic mustard, fiddleheads or lambs quarters, mint, chive and thyme are tough little survivors on my rocky, deer-scoured property. These fragrant growers have found a way to sneak up through the cracks, lodge in the tree roots and rise above the scruffy patches along the neighborhood roadsides.
I do already have access to wonderful cultivated greens through my gardening group, but I wanted to honor these scrappy backyard treasures in a simple weekday dish. I could have snipped these herbs onto a salad or salad dressing or minced them for a risotto, enhanced with some good Parmesan, but I happened to have some luxurious ricotta still in the fridge — perfect for an herb and walnut pasta.
There are two small-scale, if not artisanal, family-owned, Italian specialty companies that distribute to my local supermarket. Not too far away in Connecticut and New Jersey, they both make a traditional, creamy, whole milk ricotta that’s a guilty pleasure for me when mixed into pasta. To this dish, I also added the first broccoli rabe from the garden; this sturdy, bitter green is a suitable companion to the ricotta from the same cuisine. I tossed in walnuts for richness, flavor and crunch, not to mention more Omega-3s. If you like a meaty, heartier combination, add sautéed sausage and/or chopped tomatoes to this same combo. It’s ready in a jiffy either way.
Herb and Walnut Pasta
Serves 2 to 3
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta
- a large bunch of broccoli rabe, chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- a generous handful of mint, chives and thyme, minced
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
- about ½ pound pasta, any shape (but long strands don’t hold the ricotta as well)
Saute the chopped garlic very gently in 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Do not brown. Add in the broccoli rabe, and cook until just wilted and softened. Cook pasta. When it is drained but still hot, dump in the garlic-broccoli rabe, the ricotta and 2 to 3 more tablespoons of oil. Toss well with the chopped herbs and walnuts.