We’ve been making a version of this pasta for years. It started with an absurdly big bunch of swiss chard from the farmer’s market (see here). At home, we cooked the greens down in a garlic-studded olive oil sauce. Then we tossed in plenty of pasta and a few pantry ingredients in for good measure. And just like that, the combination stuck.
We often refer to this recipe as one of our “pantry pastas” because it leans heavily on jars and basic pantry items. Things like garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, capers, and pasta noodles. Thankfully, it also only requires about 20 minutes of cooking time. While the pasta boils, the onion and garlic soften and infuse into the olive oil. Then we take it one step farther and blitz a quick “umami bomb” of a paste - made from green olives, capers, and fresh lemon. It livens everything up with a bit of acidity and extra flavor. The finished pasta definitely screams “garlic!” and “lemon!”, rather than “olives!” and “capers!”...but don’t be fooled, the latter two really help make this dish (even though you can’t see them). Pasta water helps to emulsify the sauce. Then, everything gets showered with cheese, because we’ve yet to meet a pasta that isn’t better with cheese.
For this dish, you can use whichever type of swiss chard speaks to you: rainbow, red, green, etc. We use both the stalks and the leaves. The stalks are sturdy and take longer to cook than the leaves, so slice the stalks thin so they cook quickly. If you don’t have access to chard, another sturdy leafy green would work well instead. Lacinato kale would be our first choice of substitute, but you can get creative!
When it comes to olives, we’re partial to buying whole olives and pitting them ourselves. You can quickly pit olives at home by flattening them with the back of your knife (instructions are included in the recipe below). While we recognize that buying pitted olives might seem more convenient, you are often trading off for taste and texture. Once olives are pitted, there’s a lot more surface area exposed to the brine that they’re packed in. This can result in a softer/mushier olive - and likely, a saltier one too. Moral of the story: We encourage you to buy whole olives if you can!
To make this pasta, you’ll need some key ingredients:
- Dried Pasta: The recipe calls for linguine noodles, but other long noodles - like spaghetti, fettucini, or tagliatelle - can be used instead.
- Swiss Chard: You can use green, rainbow or red swiss chard. If you can’t find chard, you can swap it for another sturdy leafy green (like lacinato kale).
- Green Olives: Ideally whole olives, where you’ve removed the pits yourself. For this dish, you’ll need ⅓ cup of olives (measured after pitting). We usually use Cerignola olives, but if there’s another variety of green olives that you prefer, go with those! Just avoid any olives that have been pre-stuffed with cheese, pepper, etc.
- Capers: We always have a small jar of capers at home. They add a quick boost of lemony, briny flavor to so many dishes.
- Lemon: Fresh lemon is a must in this dish! Zest your lemon first, then juice it.
A few other notes on this recipe….
- How to make this recipe gluten free: Use gluten free pasta noodles. Personally, we prefer gluten free noodles that use a blend of alternative flours (such as corn and rice). Often, for best results you may want to consider cooking the noodles for less time than listed on the package. But if you already have a favorite brand, go with what you know and love.
- How to make this recipe vegan: For the cheese, use a vegan parmesan cheese substitute or skip it altogether. For the butter, either use a vegan butter substitute (like Miyokos or Earth Balance sticks) or add an extra tablespoon of olive oil.
- Leftovers: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat the next day. You might want to squeeze a bit of fresh lemon and add a sprinkle of salt to help brighten the flavor again the next day.
We hope you enjoy this pasta as much as we do! It’s a pretty forgiving recipe, so feel free to add more seasoning, oil, cheese, etc. to suit your tastes. If you end up making this recipe, we’d love to hear from you!
Lemon Swiss Chard Pasta
- 10 oz linguine (gluten-free if needed)
- ⅓ cup pitted green olives (see note 1)
- 2 tablespoons capers + 1 teaspoon brine (from jar)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced (about ¼ cup juice)
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (see note 2)
- 1 tablespoon butter (or more olive oil)
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup grated Parmesan (more for garnish, see note 3)
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Black pepper (to taste)
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain noodles.
- Mix olives and capers: Meanwhile, to a food processor, add the olives, capers and brine, lemon juice and zest. Pulse until a rough paste forms, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Cook sauce: Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onion, until very soft and golden brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and cook until it begins to wilt, about 2 minutes.
- Combine: Add pasta, salt, the olive and caper mixture, butter, and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss to coat noodles. Sprinkle with grated cheese, toss to mix. Slowly drizzle in as much of the remaining ½ cup of the reserved pasta water needed so the noodles are evenly coated with sauce. Taste and season with pepper (and more salt if needed). Sprinkle with parsley. Garnish with more cheese, if using.
- Green olives: Such as Cerignola. We recommend buying whole olives (with pits intact), and pitting them yourself at home. Whole, unpitted olives tend to have better flavor and texture. To pit olives at home: Use the flat end of your knife to gently squash whole olives on a cutting board. The olive will split, and you can pull out the pit with your fingers. Measure ⅓ cup of olives after pitting. That said, if you bought pitted olives, those will work too! Use your favorite green olive (we love Cerignola here).
- Swiss chard: Can be green, rainbow, or red Swiss chard. The stalks take longer to cook than the leaves, so slice the stalks smaller than the leaves so they cook quickly.
- Parmesan cheese: Imported Parmesan cheese typically contains animal-based rennet. If you wish to avoid this, look for cheese labelled as "vegetarian friendly" or lists "microbial enzymes" as an ingredient (instead of rennet). Asiago cheese is also a good alternative. For a vegan option, use a vegan shredded Parmesan substitute or skip entirely and add more salt (to taste).