Vella’s Pasta alla Campagna

Cheesemaker Ig Vella created this exuberant recipe for the first edition of A Cook’s Tour of Sonoma. 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.


The richness of the cheese and the smokiness of the bacon call for the like flavors of Washington State Syrah; recommended producers include Cayuse, K Vintners and Glen Fiona.

  • 1 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 pound Swiss chard
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces penne (quill-shaped pasta)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • Black pepper in a mill
  • 8 ounces Vella Dry Jack cheese, 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. With a slotted spoon, transfer it to paper towels to drain. 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 the package directions until 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. Serve immediately.

Published on December 17, 2009