Cheesemaker Ig Vella offered me this exuberant recipe for the first edition of A Cook's Tour of Sonoma. I find the combination of flavors—the tangy mustard and vinegar, the sultry bacon, the sweetness of the pecans, the kiss of heat from the pepper flakes—utterly irresistible. If you can get California Gold Dry Jack—the same as Vella's other Dry Jacks, only aged longer—this is a great place to use it; its nuttiness and depth of flavor is perfect in this complex (but easy to make) dish.
Wine recommendations: Geyser Peak Syrah, Cline Côtes d'Oakley Rouge, Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir.
1 pound bacon, diced
1 pound Swiss chard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
3 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces penne (quill-shaped pasta)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more
Black pepper in a mill
8 ounces Vella Dry Jack, grated (2 cups)
1 cup shelled pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or sauté pan until it is just crisp, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to absorbent paper, and drain off and discard all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Set the pan aside. Wash the Swiss chard, dry it thoroughly, and remove the stems. Trim and discard the base of the stems, and cut the stems into thin slices. Cut the leaves into 1/2-inch-thick crosswise strips. Keep the leaves and stems separate and set both aside. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard and vinegar and set the mixture aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions until it is just tender. Drain thoroughly but do not rinse.
While the pasta cooks, heat the bacon fat and the olive oil over medium-low heat and, when it is hot, add the chard stems, garlic, and pepper flakes and sauté until the chard stems are tender. Add the chard leaves, cover the pan, cook until the leaves are wilted, about 4 or 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Place the hot pasta in a large bowl, pour the mustard mixture over it, and toss thoroughly. Add the chard mixture, the cheese and three-quarters of the pecans and toss again. Top with the remaining pecans and serve immediately.