RECIPE: Bitter greens pair perfectly with pancetta in this weeknight pasta

Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta.
(Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

When considering the world of edible leafy greens, dandelion greens aren’t always the easiest sell. Quite bitter, with a proportionally large stem, they can come off as aggressive to the uninitiated. But those intense flavor compounds are indicative of the nutrition packed within dandelion greens, which are not only a great source of vitamins and minerals, but also natural detoxifiers. And, when paired with the right foods, dandelion greens can be a great quick-cooking vegetable to add to your weeknight meal rotation.

My favorite way to serve dandelion greens is with long pasta, such as spaghetti, and plenty of salty, savory pancetta and Parmesan cheese. The pork fat and umami-rich Parmesan help to tame the bitterness of the greens, which are cooked in two stages (stems first, greens second) to ensure the stems have enough time to turn tender. A generous squeeze of lemon just before serving brightens up each bite. And, if I haven’t sold you on dandelions, any other tender, leafy green will work just fine as a substitute.

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Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta.
(Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta

2 tablespoons water, plus more for boiling the pasta

Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens and Pancetta
  • 2 tablespoons water, plus more for boiling the pasta
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces with the stem-heavy ends separated from the leafier tops
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  • While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, place the pancetta in a large skillet with the 2 tablespoons water and the oil. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the water evaporates and the pancetta begins to brown in the fat, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the dandelion stems and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 1 minute, then stir in the leaves. Continue to cook until the leaves are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. If the greens finish cooking before the pasta, remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Add the pasta to the skillet with the greens. Return to medium-high heat and stir in 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with tongs, and continue to cook until the liquid forms a thick sauce. (If needed, add additional pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to form the sauce.) Remove from the heat, squeeze in the juice from both halves of the lemon, and stir in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan on top. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 573 calories (percent of calories from fat, 27), 20 grams protein, 87 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 17 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 23 milligrams cholesterol, 554 milligrams sodium.
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