Anti Valentine's Day: Spaghetti with Garlicky Greens

Not long ago, a friend of mine went on a date with a seemingly promising guy she met here in Rome. When I asked her how the date had gone, she groaned and said "Oh, dinner was awkward. We didn't have much to talk about, and besides that I ordered cacio e pepe, and the pasta was too long and hard to eat, and...well, first and last date." As we discussed the details of her not-so-successful dinner, we also compiled a list of all the foods that should be avoided on a first date, or in any romantic situation at all. After some careful thought and consideration we nixed: anything green, like spinach or parsley, which could easily get stuck in your teeth and remain there until hours later, when, horrified, you discovered the offending leafy green; smelly cheese, like gorgonzola or taleggio, whose pungent odors were perhaps not so welcome on a first date; onions, especially raw ones (see: smelly cheese); anything messy and difficult to eat, like a burger or tacos or the previously mentioned long pasta, like tonnarelli; garlic, because, well, garlic. The safest option, we determined, would be a piece of grilled chicken; plain, colorless, unoffensive, easily eaten with a knife and fork, but all the same, a bit boring.

So, where am I going with this?! I posted the requisite Valentine's Day recipe earlier in the week, which would be these Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, thus doing my duty for the month of February for anyone celebrating Valentine's Day. But I'm not one to leave people out! What if you're not with someone this year? What if you were with someone and you're currently heartbroken? What if you were with someone and you're currently celebrating your new found singledom? What if you haven't been in a relationship in a while and are a feeling a little bitter about all the cupids and hearts you're seeing this month?! What if you're single and are 100% fine with that, but also happen to appreciate good food?

You may not have a significant other this year, but on February 14th, you can indulge freely in any or all of the delicious items in my above-mentioned list, including today's Garlicky Green Spaghetti, which:

-Has long pasta, for guaranteed unattractive eating;
-Has an abundance of leafy spinach, to up the chances of giving you a big green-teethed grin;
-Has onions, lots of onions;
-Has garlic, lots and lots of garlic;
-Is finished off with a good dose of cheese, which doesn't give anyone good breath;
-Has a pancetta, because pancetta makes everything 100 times better, all day every day.

In short, whatever category you fall in to, this is just the sort of pasta that would be a nightmare to eat in a romantic setting, and a breeze to eat anywhere else. Above were the bullet points, here are the details: here we have spaghetti served in a silky, olive oil-y sauce that shines in all its unapologetically garlicky splendor, exalting and transforming what were previously mild and rather unremarkable spinach leaves into something truly tasty and crave-worthy. Garlic and greens aside, the spaghetti is dressed up with rich, savory pancetta, a hit of bright lemon zest, slow cooked onions, and a generous amount of salty Pecorino Romano cheese, all of which come together to make pasta that will quite possibly make you grateful you're single this year. Make a big batch of this spaghetti and dole it out to your fellow single friends for dinner on Valentine's Day, reveling in its (delicious) and romance repellent qualities!

A couple of notes: Okay, so this may seem like a lot of garlic, because it definitely is, but that's the point! The garlic here actually isn't overwhelming, just pleasantly spicy and fragrant and goes awesome with the olive oil and greens (olive oil, garlic, and greens are a match made in flavor heaven). Note that for my first "draft" of this pasta, I left the garlic cloves in larger pieces (I thought it would flavor the olive oil enough and then I could remove them later, as I usually do with garlic) but I found that the garlicky flavor wasn't strong enough, and on my second round left the cloves in thin pieces, as you'll see in the below recipe. Therefore, the garlic you see in the below photos should actually be cut much finer. This is a fairly flexible recipe: you can use Parmesan instead of the Pecorino, if you wish, leave out the pancetta for vegetarians, use any kind of winter green you like (kale, for example) or use any kind of pasta you want (longer pasta is the most fun here though). 

Want some other recipes that could present problems in a romantic setting? Check out a few other green dishes, like: Cicoria alla romana, this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, or this Pasta with Basil Pesto. You might also like a messy and/or difficult to eat dish, like: Avocado Cheddar Burgers, this Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, this Pappardelle with Porcini and Pumpkin, or this Bucatini all'amatriciana. Want some dessert? I recommend these Lemon Squares, if you're feeling a little sour this February 14th, or this Tiramisรน, whose cocoa powder is bound to end up all over your teeth and face. Hurray!


4 ounces (112 grams) pancetta (optional) 
1/3 cup (about 6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes, to taste 
16 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
16 cups (500 grams, or 1 pound) of spinach leaves, torn, tough stems removed 
Zest of 1 small lemon
12 ounces (340 grams) spaghetti
1 cup (150 grams) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

If you're using the pancetta: cook the pancetta in a tiny bit of olive oil (just so it doesn't stick at first) in a small skillet over medium heat. When the pancetta is brown and crisp, drain it on a paper towel. Set aside. 
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion and red pepper flakes. Saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic (I add the onions before the garlic as the garlic tends to cook faster). Let the garlic and onions cook until they began to soften and brown. Season the onions with a little salt and pepper. Next, add the spinach, a handful or two at a time, and let it cook down (you'll see that 16 cups really isn't as much as it sounds as it cooks down really fast). Continue until all the spinach is in the pan and has cooked down. Taste and season the onions, spinach, and garlic again with some salt and pepper if necessary. Add the pancetta and lemon zest and mix to combine. 
In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water (salting it well) and cook according to the package instructions, reserving 1/2 a cup or so of pasta water before draining the spaghetti. Add the drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss with the spinach, onions, and pancetta, then add the Pecorino cheese and a little pasta cooking water (about a tablespoon at a time) to help the sauce come together. Toss well, as you were instructed when we discussed the technique for Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.
Serve the pasta immediately with a little freshly grated Pecorino cheese on top. Eat with gusto and revel in your singleness. Serves 4.


  1. I love this post! So much fun. But you forgot to mention another type of person: the married people who don't care if the other has spinach in their teeth or has garlic breath because they cancel each other out! Hahaha! :) Great recipe amica mia! xo

    1. Ahahahah that is an excellent point!! So glad you like the post and recipe :D :D