Nanny's Penne

I hit the mother-in-law jackpot.  A week before my wife’s due date with Baby, my MIL--whom my son will call “Nanny” when he starts talking--flew out from New Jersey to feed us, clean our house, and generally take care of business.

Nanny grew up in traditional small-town South Jersey, which means she was raised on meat, potatoes, and plenty of dairy.  Fortunately for me, Nanny rules, so she showed up in Portland with clipped-out and handwritten recipes for plant-centric dishes for me.  One of those was a particularly big hit.  We’ve made it a few times since Nanny left us, and we’ve dubbed it Nanny’s Penne.

Here it is, from Pitman, New Jersey to you, with Nanny’s love:

Nanny’s Penne

Serves: 4-6 hungry people, or 2 parents + 2 kids + lunches the next day

Calories: 400-600 per serving



1lb. penne (I use Trader Joe’s brown rice penne)

2-3 T olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

pinch+ of red pepper flakes

10-16 oz. spinach, roughly chopped (I use more, but I love packing spinach into everything)

4-6 fresh chopped tomatoes, depending on size and your love for tomatoes

1 (14 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1. Cook your penne--don’t overcook, because it will stew just a bit after you’ve drained it.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and red pepper, and cook until garlic starts to soften.  Don’t burn the garlic!  Keep the heat at a true medium (not medium-high) and you should be fine.

3. Add the tomatoes and garbanzos to the pan and cook another minute or two.

4. Add the spinach a couple of handfuls at a time, along with a ladle-full of boiling pasta water, and keep mixing it in until the spinach is softened and wilted. Instead of chopping, I often just tear the leaves a bit while tossing them in--it’ll cook a little faster and be distributed better throughout the dish.

5. Depending on the size of your skillet, add the cooked and drained pasta to the skillet of goodness, or add the goodness to the pot of drained pasta.  Allow the mixture to stew a bit over low heat while you taste and season with salt and black pepper, if desired.

6. Serve with crusty bread and a salad on the side. Your cheese-loving brood can sprinkle with parmesan, which the wife tells me is delicious.

Kid-style it!  Use a smaller pasta like macaroni and cut out the red pepper flakes.  Depending on how old your child is, you might want smaller pieces of tomato and spinach, too.

Even easier: When pressed for time, you can make this with a can or two of diced tomatoes and a package of frozen spinach (microwave it first and press out most of the liquid).  Don’t skip the olive oil and garlic step, though--that really makes this dish.