by Janet Fletcher

Napa Register

It seems that everybody is eating gluten-free these days. A few people are gluten intolerant and really have no choice; others say avoiding gluten makes them feel better.

As an omnivore, I’m a little cranky about it. I love cooking for others, but I don’t enjoy having to make a different meal for everybody at the table. Food is for sharing.

The late Anthony Bourdain expressed my feelings perfectly in a televised interview that I saw shortly before he died. Bourdain, who traveled to some of the most exotic places on the planet, told the interviewer that he believed that good manners dictate that you eat what your host sets before you. When you go to grandma’s house, you eat what grandma made you, said Bourdain.

Like many diet fads, the gluten-free frenzy shall pass, I tell myself. In the meantime, I’m taking everyone’s extra gluten. My husband, Doug, and I have pasta for dinner at least twice a week, sometimes more. We never get tired of pasta. We just change the shapes.

I keep a pantry full of different pasta shapes, from fusilli to orecchiette to bucatini. I always have canned tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers on hand and Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino romano in the fridge. With these staples, I can bring home whatever fresh vegetables look best at the Napa Farmers Market and make a quick and wholesome dinner quickly.

Cauliflower, tomatoes and olives. Broccoli, anchovy and garlic. Braised green cabbage, onions and pancetta. Wilted spinach, butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. All of these combinations make delicious sauces that you can prepare in the time it takes you to heat the water and boil the pasta.

Pesto is a summer favorite, of course, but I don’t abandon pesto in winter. Instead I make it with kale and walnuts. My winter version doesn’t have the pungent aroma of the classic basil pesto, but it packs a lot more nutrients. Of course, you can use this winter pesto on gluten-free pasta, if you prefer. It’s also tasty spread on crostini. Napa Farmers Market vendors have several kinds of kale for sale now, but the tender, deep-green Tuscan kale, also called lacinato kale, is the best choice for this recipe.

Spaghetti with Kale and Walnut Pesto

From “Four Seasons Pasta” by Janet Fletcher (Chronicle Books).

1/2 pound Tuscan kale, central ribs removed

2 large cloves garlic

Scant ½ cup walnuts, toasted

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano, plus more for garnish

Kosher or sea salt

1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine or fusilli

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the kale, pushing it down into the water with tongs, and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a sieve with the tongs and cool quickly under cold running water. (Keep the cooking water at a boil.) Drain the kale, then squeeze gently to remove excess water. Chop coarsely.

Put the kale in a food processor with the garlic and walnuts and process until nearly smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil gradually until the pesto is creamy. It doesn’t need to be completely smooth. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese, then season to taste with salt.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Just before the pasta is done, whisk enough of the hot pasta water into the pesto to make a thin sauce that will cling to the noodles.

Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot. Add as much of the pesto as you need to coat the pasta, then toss well, moistening with some of the reserved pasta water as needed. Divide among warm bowls and top each portion with a little additional cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, Jan. 12, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.

On the KVYN Music Stage: Stewart Degner will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, Jan. 17.

Janet Fletcher ( is a Napa Valley cookbook author and cooking teacher and the publisher of the Planet Cheese blog. She is on the board of directors of the Napa Farmers Market.