Rapini, or broccoli rabe, are a great late winter/early spring green–that is, if you can appreciate that “good bitter” taste that I associate with this dish. The other day at the farmer’s market, I saw some good looking bunches and decided to bring some home for dinner. Now I am sure there are plenty of ways to prepare broccoli rabe, and I am sure they are all equally yummy, but for me, rapini are best when served up with garlic and olive oil and tossed in a pasta–and more precisely, gemelli.
I can’t always count on Josh’s help in the kitchen on a school night, but it is not at all uncommon for me to grab the phone and give my mother a quick call to double-check her take on a recipe. And to be honest, that’s where all this generational cooking got started in the first place–with me, asking her how to make some dish, and then modifying it a bit to make it my own. And with any luck, I will be getting calls like that from my kids in a couple of decades as well.
The really great trick I learned from my mom on this dish is to put the rapini stems in the pasta water. It lends a great deal of flavor to the pasta (and if you want to eat the stems, a 7-9 min boil will do the trick.)
1 bunch of rapini or broccoli rabe (about a pound)
1/2 lb gemelli pasta
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt, plus salt for your pasta water
Wash the rapini and trim off the very base of the stem. Chop the greens roughly, into bite-size pieces, down to the stems. Break off any remaining broccolini that are still attached to the stems and place them with the chopped greens.
Place a pot of salted water on the stove (enough water to cook a 1/2 lb of pasta) and add the rapini stems. Set the heat on high and bring to a boil.
Just as your water is getting ready to boil, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch stainless steel frying pan. Add the minced garlic and simmer for a minute or two. Then add the rapini (which should still be a little wet from washing) and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook over a medium flame.
Add the gemelli to the boiling water–the time it takes to cook the pasta should be time enough to cook the rapini as well without overcooking it. Watch the moisture in the frying pan, and as it starts to look too dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta water.
When the pasta is al dente, remove the boiled rapini stems and set aside (eating is optional). Drain the pasta. Next, add the drained pasta to the rapini and cook for another 30 seconds or so, stirring through. Shut off the heat and drizzle an additional tablespoon (or so) of olive oil over the top of the dish. Toss and serve.
Serve as you see fit: as is, or with grated cheese, additional olive oil, red pepper flakes, or even a squeeze of lemon.