Fusilli with Pancetta, Kale, and Cranberries

One of my favorite things being home after a far-off trip is getting back into my kitchen. It’s my happy place! Poor John had to hop right back on a plane after our vacation with another business trip looming this week. So while I had him home for a short couple of days, I wanted to make a tasty home-cooked meal. These days, my cooking inclinations seem based on whatever pregnancy cravings I’m currently experiencing. This weekend, Baby Howe nailed it- those cravings turned into a fantastic Fusilli with Pancetta, Kale, and Cranberries!

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It’s been a while since I’ve easily just ‘winged it’ in the kitchen without a recipe to use as a starting point. It felt great to pull items from the pantry, switch gears a couple of times, and scratch down notes along the way to create a new dish. The best part is that this pasta has plenty of flavor without a ton of effort! First, I boiled curly-cue fusilli pasta according to the package directions. Next up: browning some salty pancetta in a swirl or two of olive oil. Pancetta is kind of an Italian bacon. See that little guy who jumped ship from the plate to the counter? His next stop was my mouth.

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While the pancetta was crisping up in the pan, I chopped a few cloves of garlic and sliced up some shallot. I also cut the thick stems out of one bunch of curly kale and chopped it into big pieces.

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I removed the pancetta bits from the pan and let them drain on a paper towel-lined plate. I sautéed the shallot and garlic for a few minutes right in the pancetta drippings (flavor!). I added a nice palm full of crushed red pepper for a bit of heat and splashed in about a half a cup each of chicken broth and white wine. (Dear wine: I miss you.)

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After a few minutes of simmering, I added a big scoop of mascarpone cheese. It’s similar to cream cheese but a tad milder. Does that dollop look like a big scoop of ice cream to anyone other than the pregnant chef…?

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The mascarpone melted right into the pan, creating a creamy sauce. Time for some greenery! I added the entire bunch of kale, which seems like a lot, but it cooks down just like spinach does. I put the lid on the pan for a couple of minutes to help it along.

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We’re nearing the home stretch here! To the creamy kale/shallot mixture, I added the browned pancetta, one can of drained cannellini beans, and a quarter cup of wrinkly, tart Craisins. I definitely eat with my eyes first, and this colorful skillet makes my mouth water!

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The last addition was some fresh grated Parmesan cheese. When I plated the pasta, I topped it with plenty of toasted pine nuts for crunchy texture, a bit more Parmesan, and some fresh chopped basil. FEED ME.

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Despite the mascarpone addition, this pasta was not saucy and heavy and creamy. There are all sorts of things going on: a salty bite from the pancetta, an interesting sweetness from the dried cranberries, extra creaminess from the beans, nutty notes from the pine nuts, freshness from the kale and basil. I tried to get a little bit of everything in each bite. Do you do that, too?

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There’s something festive about those little cranberries, which plumped up a tad in the sauce. I love when simple ingredients come together to make something special. Those are the best recipes!

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Most important, John loved his between-travels home-cooked meal. It was happily delicious…and I have a new “hubby-approved” recipe to add into our winter rotation!

Fusilli with Pancetta, Kale, and Cranberries

You’ll need:

  • 8 ounces of fusilli pasta (or your pasta preference)
  • Olive oil (a tablespoon or two)
  • 6 ounces of pancetta, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2-3 shallots, sliced
  • Heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper (adjust for spice preference)
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup Craisins
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • Toasted pine nuts and fresh basil for garnish

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

In a deep skillet, brown the pancetta in a couple of swirls of olive oil. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate to use later.

In the pancetta drippings on medium heat, sauté the shallot and garlic until the shallot starts to become translucent. Add crushed red pepper. Add the white wine and chicken broth and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Lower the heat to low and add the kale. Stir well and simmer for 5-8 minutes or until the kale cooks down (adding the pan’s lid helps here). Add the pancetta back to the pan along with the beans and Craisins. Add the Parmesan cheese. Cook for a few minutes until everything is warmed through. Add the cooked pasta and toss well.

To serve, top with toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and fresh chopped basil. Add a piece of toasted crusty bread, a burning candle, and a loved one on the side. YUM.

Hungry for more? Check out the collection of recipes on the FOOD BLISS page!

The New 52: A recipe for each week in 2015. (Well, almost.)

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