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On Unplanned Eating

Our favorite pasta salad – really the only one we make – is a pretty simple combination of noodles, sausage, greens, beans, onion, and some dressing (recipe below). We make a huge bowl full of it, use it as a main dish several times, and then finish it off as a side dish with other fare like hamburgers or BLTs.

The pasta salad is meant to be flexible, allowing for variation in the vegetables and beans, but to my mind, if we’re asking this dish to go far, a few of the items are necessary: noodles (of course), sausage (of course), some kind of dressing, and – I argue – the greens.

Why should greens be vital? I’m all for meat and pasta, but vegetables really do balance it out. But why greens? We are, after all, talking about leaves – not firm crisp roots, or stalky stalks, or succulent fruits, or even densely packed florets. Thin, floppy leaves.

Here are a few arguments for leaves. Fewer vegetables have more variety and subtlety in flavor. Grown properly – in cool weather, generally – flavors may range from nutty to peppery, from sweet to chalky. And delicacy, which is intrinsic to most greens, is rare in our diets. With all the heating, freezing, burning, and fermenting, it’s nice to eat something the way it is.

Besides, the older I get, the more I find myself reaching for greens. I don’t know why. It can’t be health; I reach for donuts just as much.

In any case, I was preparing a large batch of this pasta dish when I realized I forgot to bring home spinach from the farm where I work. Our spinach at home is too young, and I neglected to buy any at the store, thinking I would swing by the farm. Now the kids are hungry, the sausage and noodles are cooked, and I am without leaves.

So I went outside.

(In general this is good idea. Having an argument with your partner? Go outside. In a funk at work? Go outside. Kids are screaming? Hide sharp objects and items of value, and then go outside. Flea beetles eating your radishes? Go to a different place outside.)

I went outside in hopes of finding greens. I am not much of a forager. I’ve never hunted for food, and I spend a lot of time in one place. But food has come to me in surprising ways, especially in the form of weeds.

My neighbor is a wise old woman. She was the first person to notify me that my weeds might be edible. Later I noticed one of our most common weeds, lambsquarters (or lamb’s quarters, or goosefoot), in a seed catalog. But I still don’t deliberate over which weeds to dispatch, and which to somehow save. I am a gardener. I weed quickly, in a trance, rarely stopping to ponder this plant or that.

So I went outside to a small plant we had sown last season that survived: strawberry spinach. My wife thinks it reseeded; I say it survived and reseeded. In any case, it’s a wonderful, hardy little plant with a small bush habit that eventually puts out tasty greens, and bright little red berries with neutral flavor. I took to harvesting some leaves, but there simply wasn’t enough – still too early in our season.

Next to the plant, however, was its wild cousin, lambsquarters. The resemblance in the leaves is quite striking. Several small plants in the bed were growing very well: young, tender, and really quite beautiful – silvery green leaves becoming more silvery, and slightly purple, toward the center of the plant.

So I happily harvested all the lambsquarters I could find, tossed it in the pasta salad, and satisfied my deep, inexplicable craving for greens.

Plan, folks. Plan. Make your lists. But pay attention, too, and learn the skills required to adapt.

A note on foraging: do not eat something you have not identified. Some wild plants will kill you if you eat them. Kill you dead. Be confident you know what you’re eating.


Print Recipe

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Course: Main Course



  • 1 lb. sausage cooked cut into coins
  • 8-10 oz. rotini pasta cooked
  • 1 can some white bean like Great Northern rinsed
  • 2 T red wine vinegar do not skimp on quality
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 1 14 t salt
  • 4 c baby spinach or fresh chopped spinach (or strawberry spinach, lambsquarters, purslane/Mexican parsley. If you use
  • 13 c red onion sliced thinly
  • 2 c most any fresh vegetable chopped (bell pepper cucumber etc. – this is optional)


  1. Soak sliced red onion in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. This helps with the bite.
  2. Cook sausages in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, or boil and omit 1 tablespoon of the olive oil from the recipe.
  3. Dissolve salt in red wine vinegar.
  4. Combine all ingredients.

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