Rrrrrrrrrapini! (Spicy broccoli rabe with orecchiette)

I'm afraid I'm going to wax poetic about a vegetable today. Last night was the first time I cooked broccoli rabe (aka rapini). It's a rare day when I see it in the store, but I noticed it last week, so I snapped it up. I've planted quite a lot of it this year, both in pots and in the ground; we'll see how it does. In the meantime, I wanted to confirm that my vague recollections of it were accurate in their remembered rapture. Mission accomplished.

Rapini is a stalky, leafy green with small buds and flowers. It is cooked like a green. To prepare it, you need to cut off the bottom of the stalk roughly just below where the leaves begin. Then cut it into 1-2 inch lengths and plunge into a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. It is a little bit peppery (though that can vary by batch), and has a lovely flavor and multiple interesting textures (stalk, leaf, bud, flower). It is all edible, though the bottoms that you cut off are too tough to eat.

I made a very simple preparation of spicy broccoli rabe with orecchiette pasta (little ear shaped pasta which is easier to find dried in your local grocery than you might expect). It came together in about 15 minutes. I think it disappeared from our plates in less time than that. If you see broccoli rabe in the store, don't hesitate - buy it! Then try this very simple preparation. You won't be sorry.

Spicy rapini with orecchiette
Serves 4

1 lb dried orecchiette (whole wheat if you can find it!)
1.5 lb bunch rapini/broccoli rabe (use more if you like your veggie to pasta ratio to be higher!)
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic (or more if you love garlic)
1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese (omit to feed vegans)
salt, to taste

Bring a very large pot of salted water to boil (preferably with a colander insert). Plunge the rapini into the boiling water and let it boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Remove the rapini from the water and drain well.

Add dried pasta to the still boiling water (and perhaps a little more salt) and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile (when the pasta is at least 1/2 done), heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes until it is lightly golden. Add the rapini and the red pepper flakes and toss to coat with the olive oil. Saute until heated through.

Drain the pasta well, reserving a mug full of pasta water. Toss the pasta in the saute pan with the rapini and add pasta water until you are satisfied with the consistency of the 'sauce'. Add the grated cheese and then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with steamy, grilled garlicky bread.

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