Here is another straightforward, easy to make summer pasta dish. The only component that requires a somewhat lengthy preparation are the caramelized onions. But once you get the onions caramelizing, the rest of the dish comes together in a flash, making it a popular week night dinner for us.
A little earlier in the growing season I used fresh peas in this dish, but when I made it this week I used fresh, sweet green beans. Green beans, which are in season/widely available/delicious right now, are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K and magnesium and a good source of vitamin A and dietary fiber. I used fresh green beans in here not only to up the nutritional content, but also provide a crisp, crunchy textural element.
Caramelized onions add such a wonderful component to so many different dishes (I also served them this week over a seared strip steak from a small farm in upstate NY), and this pasta dish is no exception. They may at first seem like an unusual ingredient for a pasta dish, but, trust me, they really elevate this dish from somewhat simple to beautifully complex. The richly sweet onions are a wonderful compliment to the other subtle, fresh flavors.
Just make sure to give the onions plenty of time to gradually soften and caramelize (no cutting corners by raising the heat to shorten the cooking time, it just doesn't have the same effect!). Whenever I'm caramelizing onions, I get them chopped and on the heat right when I get back from work. They just need a few minutes of monitoring to make sure they aren't browning or cooking too quickly, and then they can pretty much be left alone (save for the very occasional stir). Turn off the heat when they are done and they're be all ready for you when you're assembling the rest of the dish.
Whole Wheat Fusilli with Green Beans, Ricotta & Caramelized Onions
1/2 pound whole wheat fusilli, or other short-cut pasta
1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces ricotta cheese
pinch of salt
zest from 1/2 lemon
1/4 lb green beans
1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded
salt & pepper to taste
Halve onions through the root end and slice crosswise into thin half-moon slices. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions and stir to coat them with oil. Let the onions cook, stirring frequently, until they become transparent and are starting to soften (about 10 minutes). Next, lower the heat to medium-low and cook the onions for about 30-60 minutes longer, until they are golden brown and sweet. You'll want to stir them every so often to ensure they are not burning, but at the same time letting them stick a little bit to the bottom of the pan (this will help the browning process). If at any point they look like they are on the verge of burning, lower the heat and add a little more oil.
Once the onions are sufficiently caramelized, add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for a few more minutes until the garlic is softened and fragrant. Turn off heat.
Prepare the rest of the dish:
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and add pasta. While pasta is cooking, combine the ricotta and lemon zest in a bowl and add salt to taste. Drop the green beans into the water with the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy, salty pasta water.
Add pasta and beans into the pot with the caramelized onions, and toss with the ricotta lemon zest mixture. Add in some of the reserved pasta water, one splash at a time, if it looks a little thick. Fold in the basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.