Friday, March 20, 2009

Seeds of Change

It's official: Spring has sprung! And the area flora definitely got the memo. Seeing new blossoms makes me feel, I don't know, optimistic. Things are growing, changing, revealing their beauty again after a period of dormancy. It's infectious. I mean the stock market even posted its second week of gains in a row! I often jog by an elementary school, which is lined with apricot trees. While they've been naked silhouettes these past few months, it seemed like overnight they started bursting with blossoms. It looks like the branches are covered in pale pink popcorn.

When I stopped to admire the vision, I also noticed a beautiful vegetable garden in the school yard that was showing off all her goods like a proud peacock. I was hypnotized by the bright red stalks of Swiss chard, which were planted next to the most lovely bed of lettuces. 

My mouth began to water thinking of all the dishes I could make if I had that bounty at my disposal (ignoring the fact that I have a black gardening thumb so would starve if I had to rely on my gardening skills to eat). However the backdrop felt a bit odd. I was at an elementary school, and I don't often associate vegetables and kids — unless you actually consider a French fry a vegetable. But then I learned that some seeds of change had been planted here 14 years ago.

The students at Peabody Charter School, under the direction of teachers and garden mentors, oversee the care and maintenance of almost 2,000 square feet of raised beds containing seasonal fruits and vegetables, herbs and native plants. 

Students collect green waste from the cafeteria kitchen and maintain worm bins and composts piles to feed the school garden. Students harvest fruits and vegetables for the school cafeteria and to share with their families. Certainly the food nourishes the students' bodies, but the participation in preparing, serving and enjoying a meal together establishes habits that these kids will hopefully carry with them long after they leave. They've been exposed to the process of taking food from seed to plate and back. It's a process with the potential for so much positive change. And it's a practice that I hope more schools can integrate on some level. 

I finished my run so that I could eat a lovely pasta dish that had been inspired by the kid's garden without guilt. It's healthy, fast and definitely tastes great. It's also a very versatile recipe. It is easily halved and you can substitute another type of pasta if you didn't have spaghetti on hand (I used penne on this day). You can roll up the Swiss chard mixture with some shaved fontina cheese in prosciutto and roast it in the oven for a tasty tapa or it makes an excellent frittata base. Anyway you eat it, it's delicious, and I promise you'll go back to it again and again as a staple recipe each time you hear some beautiful Swiss chard calling your name. 

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and Pecorino Cheese by Giada De Laurentiis

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 bunches Swiss chard, trimmed and chopped (about 14 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
8 oz whole-wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts

Heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chard and saute until it wilts, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, wine, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down and the chard is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season the chard mixture, to taste, with salt and pepper. 
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the spaghetti and add to the chard mixture and toss to combine. Transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle with olives, cheese, and pine nuts. Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment