Absolutes are rare in cooking. Once you learn the basics of technique and flavor you can experiment freely – recognizing you’re going to bomb every once in a while and that every truly great dish has been practiced and refined over time. While researching broccoli rabe last week, I discovered an exception to this rule. Every single recipe I read began with blanching and included garlic and red pepper flakes.
Now, I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere, but once I spent some time getting to know broccoli rabe, it all made sense. Though it looks like broccoli, broccoli rate is closer in relation to the turnip, another member of the brassica family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and kale. It has a sharp bitterness to it which is abated by blanching. The heat of the pepper flakes and richness of lightly browned garlic reveal subtler flavors in the rabe.
While there is no sauce in this pasta, I used a common Italian technique of adding the pasta cooking liquid to the sauté pan, along with slightly undercooked pasta, and letting the dish come together while the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. This leaves the pasta almost as flavorful as the greens.
Broccoli Rabe with Pasta
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stems cleaned and peeled, and damaged leaves removed*
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tbs red pepper flakes
- 2 tbs chopped oregano
- More olive oil – the good stuff!
- 1 pound dried penne or farfalle
- Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute in salted, boiling water and remove to ice bath. When cool, drain.
- Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces.
- Boil water and start cooking pasta.
- Heat 2 tbs oil in large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook until starting to light brown. Be careful not to burn.
- Add pepper flakes, cook for 30 seconds.
- Add broccoli rabe and cook 2-3 minutes until crisp tender.
- When pasta is almost ready, drain, reserving two cups of liquid.
- Add pasta and liquid to broccoli rabe. Cook until liquid reduces to coat pasta.
- Toss with oregano, additional olive oil, cheese, pepper and salt.