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Orecchiette with Rapini

October 26, 2019

Serves 4

Ahhhh. Rapini. If I were to have a "signature dish" this would be it. Rapini (a.k.a. broccoletti di rapa, cime di rape) is one of the first foods my mother taught me how to prepare when I was little. If you have never tasted it, please run to the store and buy some now. It is slightly bitter, slightly sweet, nutty, and has a deep, unctuous flavor that is so satisfying to me in every way that it is hard to describe.


Rapini is very popular in Italian cuisine and although it looks likes broccoli, it is not - it is more and it is a food I will never tire of cooking and eating. Oh, how I love this stuff.


In Italian tradition, rapini is often paired with sausage and orecchiette (small, ear shaped pasta). I tend to leave out the sausage and the dish is just as spectacular. You can sauté the rapini directly in the pan, or blanch them first. My mother does the former and I the latter. Blanching can reduce the bitter flavor, so it really just depends on what you like.


Ingredients:

2 bunches rapini (choose ones with fresh, bright green leaves)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Pinch of hot pepper flakes (optional)

½ cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 pound orecchiette pasta (or substitute penne)

½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt


Method:

Bring a pot of water to boil and add enough salt to make it taste like the ocean. Seriously, taste it with a spoon!


Trim the rapini stems about 1/4-inch below the green florets and leaves. Discard any tough outer leaves. Add the rapini to the boiling water and blanch for approximately 3 minutes. Test one of the larger stalks by gently squeezing between two fingers. If it is still firm with just a little bit of give, then remove rapini from the water and drain. Save the water you used to cook the rapini and use it to cook the pasta. Technically, you should plunge the rapini into an ice water bath to immediately stop the cooking. Feel free to do this. I don’t.


Return the pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta a few minutes less than the package directions suggest and retain about 1 cup of pasta cooking water. (This water contains starches from the pasta which help create a rich, luxurious sauce, and also adds an itensity of flavor that would be lacking without). Drain the pasta.


While the pasta is cooking, finish preparing the rapini.


In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic, and sauté until the garlic is golden. Add some hot pepper flakes if you like. I like. Gently toss in the rapini and some salt and stir for a few minutes. Pour in a bit of chicken broth. I like to remove the garlic at this point too.


Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan with the rapini and give it a few stirs. Add some of the pasta cooking liquid. Taste, and if the pasta needs more cooking, continue adding the reserved pasta water and stir until the pasta is al dente or cooked to your preference. Taste and season with salt if necessary.


Sprinkle generously with some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve!

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