I love putting, sweet, sour, salty, bitter together in this taste-bud wowing vegetarian dish: Quick sauteed lacinato kale with garlic is the guts of the dish, plus crunchy, oven-toasted walnuts coated in a little coconut oil & coconut-palm sugar and those tender little hat-like pasta orbs, oricchiette. Agrodolce—the classic Italian sour (agro) sweet (dolce) sauce is just the right unifying element. I have done a “cheaters” version of this dish, when there’s no time to make the full sauce. For that, I just omit the whole roasted vegetable reduction, make the kale, noodles and toasted walnuts, and add 2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar.
But for the full, meaty-without-meat version of the sauce, I roast vegetables in red wine, vegetable & mushroom broth to make a delicious concentrated reduction. (You can do those the night before, if you’re time crunched!) To that I add some balsamic vinegar and a splash of Italian saba or Spanish arrope—a tangy syrup made by reducing grape juice or grape must. Saba is difficult to find in Chicago which is a bummer, but you can get a $20 bottle of it at Publican Quality Meats. You can find arrope—which I like because it is a bit more caramel/savory tasting to me than the very-fruity saba—at City Olive. Serve the roasted vegetables at a separate meal, or as an extra side dish.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Agrodolce Sauce Ingredients
- 2 cups dried porcini mushrooms, covered with 2 cups boiling water
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
- 1 very large sweet onion, cut into small wedges
- 3 celery ribs, chopped
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp saba or arrope
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 6 juniper berries, bruised
- 1 bay leaf
Orecchiette & Walnuts Ingredients
- 1, 1 lb bag orecchiette
- very large pot of hard-boiling water
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups walnuts
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 3 Tbsp coconut palm sugar
- 1 to 1 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes (to taste)
Garlic Kale Ingredients
- 4 good-sized bunches of lacinato kale, ribs removed, leaves chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced fine, divided
- 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- vegan cheese OR parmesan flakes to garnish finished dish
- Pour 2 cups boiling water over the dried mushrooms in a large bowl. Cover with a towel and let steep while you chop the vegetables.
- Chop the onions, carrots and celery. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in heavy saute pan. Saute the vegetables until al dente.
- Drain and SAVE THE WATER from the mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms. Add to the vegetables in the pan. Saute 2 more minutes. Spread vegetables in roasting pan. Add rosemary, juniper berries and bay leaf. Cover with several turns of fresh cracked pepper and sprinkling of salt. Pour 1 cup red wine, 3 cups vegetable broth, and the reserved mushroom water over the vegetables. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
- While vegetables are roasting, remove the ribs from all the kale and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
- Toast the walnuts at 350 for about 10 minutes (watch carefully) until toasted and fragrant. Remove walnuts from oven.
- In small saucepan, melt coconut oil with palm sugar (the palm sugar will remain grainy–that’s okay!) Pour mixture over the toasted walnuts and stir to coat.
- Salt walnuts to taste (about 1/2 to 1 tsp sea salt flakes)
- Start large pot of water boiling. Once hard boiling, carefully, in small handfuls, add the orecchiette to the hard boiling water and cook until the desired softness.
- Drain pasta. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkle with a small amount of salt if desired.
- In a saute pan over medium heat, saute half of the garlic with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 3 Tbsp water, covering the pan to soften the garlic. Remove lid, turn up heat to high and working quickly, saute half of the kale until well wilted but not watery. Remove all to a bowl. Again, saute the rest of the garlic with another Tbsp of oil and 3 more Tbsp water, covering the pan to soften the garlic. Remove lid, turn up heat to high and working quickly, saute the rest of the kale until well wilted but not watery. Add to the other cooked kale.
- Remove roasted vegetables from oven; in batches, strain the liquid reduction from the vegetables, pressing a little to get more juice. You should have at least 1/2 cup of liquid. Set vegetables aside.
- In a very large, heavy saute pan over medium high heat, heat the 1/2 cup of roasted vegetable liquid, whisk in 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking. Add the 2 Tbsp of arrope. Turn off heat.
- Gently stir the cooked pasta in to the sauce. Add the walnuts with sugar and oil, and the sauteed kale & garlic. Toss to coat all well. Adjust seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste) Serve with the roasted vegetables as a separate side dish, or, serve the pasta dish on its own.