I love this dish! There is something about taking a bite of mildly bitter sautéed leafy greens, that at first taste says, Not sure about this, and then quickly turns to, Got to have another bite. The bitterness is surprisingly addictive.
Such is the case when rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is sautéed with green onions, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil and then tossed with fettuccini, lemon juice, and parmesan.
Rapini is a bitter leafy green found in most grocery stores in the produce section where other greens like escarole and curly endive are found. The leaves, stalks, and florets are all edible and have identical taste levels. When purchasing, look for bright green perky leaves, and florets that haven’t blossomed.
I like to use freshly made fettuccini noodles with this dish when I can find them. Otherwise, these dried noodles work nicely.
Yield: 4 Servings
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced
1 pound bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe), trimmed, peeled, and chopped into 2-inch sections
½ -1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
juice of one lemon, squeezed over cooked rapini
½-¾ pound package of fettucini noodles
grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
Mise en Place:
To prep garlic, flatten cloves with the flat side of a knife and slice into pieces. Do not mince, as garlic is easy to burn when chopped too finely.
Prep the green onion by trimming the roots. Use a scissor to snip off shriveled or flat leaves as these will likely burn while sautéing.
To prep rapini, wash the leaves under cool running water. Place stalks on a large cloth towel and pat dry.
Trim base of stems. Use a pairing knife to peel the stringy, tough skin off of each stem, just as you would for broccoli spears. This will help the stalks cook as quickly as the florets tend to do when placed in a pot of boiling water.
Next, take a stack of 3 or 4 trimmed rapini stems and chop them into 2-inch segments as shown in the picture below. Continue in this way until all the stems are chopped. If peeling the thin stems is going to be a deal breaker for making this dish, leave the skin on and cut the stems into smaller pieces so they will cook faster when blanched in the pot of boiling water.
To cook the rapini and pasta: Bring a pot of water with ½ tablespoon of salt to a boil. We’ll use the same pot of water to cook both the rapini and the pasta.
While waiting for the water to come to a boil, warm olive oil in a large six-quart heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté gently for about 4-5 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown as browning will cause it to become bitter. Watch carefully and stir frequently. Stir in red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside.
When the water in the pot comes to a boil, blanch the rapini. To do this, add the rapini and stir. The pile of leaves will quickly collapse into the water as you stir them down.
As soon as the water returns to a boil, set a timer for one minute and allow the rapini to simmer. After one minute, use a serrated spoon to immediately remove the leaves from the hot water and place in a small bowl. This is called blanching. You do not want to overcook the leaves and florets. We are trying to keep the florets intact and the leaves bright green. Also, save the pot of water to use to cook the fettuccini.
Use tongs to lift the rapini out of the small amount of water that has collected in the bottom of the bowl, and add it to the onions and garlic in the sauté pan. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, for about one minute, to meld the flavors of the vegetables.
Bring the pot of water (now full of rapini “liquor”) back to a boil and use it to cook the fettucini. It typically takes only about three minutes to cook the noodles. Read the directions on the package. There is nothing worse in Italian cooking than overcooked, waterlogged pasta. Drain noodles in a colander.
Mix the pasta and vegetables and squeeze the juice of one lemon over all of it. Stir gently.
Sprinkle fettuccini with lots of Reggiano parmesan before serving.
Two things to know about grating cheese: let the cheese come to room temperature before grating, and never hold the cheese with your bare hands because in doing so you might encourage mold to grow on the cheese. Save the cheese rinds in the freezer for soups.
If you would like to turn this into a more filling meal, add cannellini beans and grilled Italian sausage or roasted chicken to this dish.
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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.