Holiday Eve Penne

It happens every year. We get so fixated on the details of the big day – family, food, drink, decor – that we forget to plan how we’ll feed ourselves the night before the festivities kick off. Of course you want to save your stomach space and cooking energy for the following day, but likely you’ve got a houseful of folks who need to eat. So here’s an idea for your holiday eve dinner. This pasta dish is a little bit savory, a little bit sweet, a little bit briny, a little bit spicy and made with ingredients you’ve likely already got on hand. The preparation is simple, the flavors straightforward – perfect characteristics for a pre-holiday dish. Open a bottle of wine, put a pot of pasta on the table, and relax. The best is yet to come.

Holiday Eve Penne

Holiday Eve Penne
Serves 4

Salt
12 ounces penne
1 bunch (about 12 ounces) Swiss chard, stemmed, washed, and torn
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup each: pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 can (14.5 ounce) petite diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra coarsely grated for sprinkling

Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to boil in a large soup kettle. Add penne and, using back-of-the-box cooking times as a guide and adding Swiss chard the last few minutes of cooking, cook until tender. Reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid, drain pasta and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts over medium heat in a medium skillet until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same skillet add oil, garlic and pepper flakes. When garlic starts to sizzle, add capers, olives, and cranberries; cook to intensify flavors, about a minute. Add tomatoes; simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

Add sauce, parsley, and cheese to pasta; toss to coat, adding additional pasta cooking liquid if pasta seems dry. Serve immediately with a sprinkling with Parmesan cheese.