My most vivid memories of childhood are those ones in which my family is seated around our dining room table. I remember discussing potential Halloween costumes over stuffed green peppers and soldiering through those first cold nights of winter over big bowls of chicken and rice soup.
Different eras of my childhood are so deeply linked to the meals we ate frequently during those years that I still can’t eat those dishes without recalling long-past moments. Avocados and plums taste like my earliest days in Southern California. Fried eggs served on steamed white rice with a side of pickled ginger take me back to the months after my parents returned from a trip to Hawaii.
There’s one meal that we ate a lot during my high school and college years and even a single bite of it transports me. It was chicken breast (quickly cooked with garlic) and sauteed zucchini and baby spinach (often straight from the backyard garden) heaped on top of angel hair pasta (highly valued by my mother because it cooked quickly) and topped with a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.
Longing to taste that time again, I recently thought to make a similar dish. I went looking for something with a little more sophistication that would still mirror those flavor notes. The recipe that surfaced is one from Giada De Laurentiis. Her Farfalle With Chicken, Porcini Mushroom and Swiss Chard fits the bill. It’s perfect for these winter months because it uses dried mushrooms and subs in nearly always-seasonal Swiss chard for the summer veg my mom employed. An easy, comforting dish, it makes an excellent Weekender.
Before you start boiling your pasta, read these tips:
— Dried porcini mushrooms can be expensive. This recipe calls for just an ounce, however, so if you can find them at a store that sells them in bulk, you should be able to keep your costs in check by buying just what you need. It’s worth doing if you can swing it, as they add a great deal of flavor.
— Make sure to drain the pasta while it still retains some bite!
— If chard isn’t your thing, feel free to substitute your favorite cooking green. Kale, hearty spinach leaves or mustard greens would all be good.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.