Most Americans get pasta all wrong. Cooked too long and smothered in too much sauce, what can be a healthy, bright dish is often very heavy. Take a cue from the Italians next time you cook pasta to create a sultry, satisfying, yet light dish.
The first tip is to cook the pasta until al dente (firm to the bite) as it will continue to cook in the skillet with the other ingredients. The most crucial step is to add the pasta to the skillet of sauce and continue cooking, allowing the pasta to absorb the flavors throughout.
Here, orecchiette (“little ears”) or cavatelli (short, narrow, rippled-edged shells) are cooked until still slightly firm. The chopped broccoli rabe is added to the boiling pasta about 5 minutes before it’s done. Garlic is sautéed in a generous amount of flavorful olive oil. The pasta is then added to the skillet to absorb the garlicky oil. A simple garnish of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese tops off the dish.
For a dish this simple, it’s crucial to use good ingredients. You can adapt this basic recipe for virtually any vegetable and any type of pasta, varying the herbs, spices and seasonings.
Broccoli Rabe Pasta
1 pound orecchiette or cavatelli pasta (a small pasta shape to capture the sauce)
1 pound broccoli rabe, heavy stems removed, remaining stems and leaves cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 cup reserved pasta water
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Add broccoli rabe 5 minutes before the end of cooking time Stir well. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta water.
2. Heat oil over medium heat in the same pan. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes and salt; sauté until garlic turns golden.
3. Turn off heat and stir in pasta mixture. Toss until the pasta and rabe are coated with oil. Add reserved pasta water, a little at a time, to help loosen and coat the mixture. Sprinkle cheese over the top and toss. Serves 10.
Per serving: 289 calories, 13g fat, 4mg chol., 8g prot., 35g carbs., 2g fiber, 442mg sodium
Recipe by Nancy Vienneau