A couple of years ago I discovered rapini for the first time. Of course it’s not a new vegetable, but I had never tried it. Rapini (a.k.a. broccoli rabe, raab, broccoletti di rape or Italian broccoli) is a green vegetable that’s at its peak in the autumn and winter. It has a bitter flavour and is often found in Italian and Asian dishes.
The bitterness in rapini can vary from one bunch to the next (I once bought some in the winter that was inedibly bitter) but for the most part the bitter flavour is mild. You can mellow any bitterness by blanching it: Bring a pot of water to a boil, cook the rapini for four minutes, drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking. Dry the stalks and use as desired.
Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Crisp Garlic Crumbs
Makes about 6 servings
Note: Orecchiette are small ear-shaped pasta. However, they can sometimes be difficult to find so you can easily substitute penne.
For garlic crumbs:
- 2 cups fresh (not dry) breadcrumbs (made from approximately 5 slices of bread)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
For meat sauce:
- 4 sweet or mild Italian sausages, casings removed (see ‘Removing Sausage Casing‘ for tips)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 bunch (about 1 lb. / 450 grams) blanched rapini (see above for instructions), chopped into 2″ pieces
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 (500 g) package orecchiette or penne
To make garlic crumbs:
- Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and sauté on medium heat for about 20 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and stir until all crumbs are coated with oil.
- Sauté crumbs on medium heat, watching carefully, until they turn brown and crisp. Remove from pan and set aside. Crumbs can be made in advance and kept in a dry, covered container.
To make meat sauce:
- In a deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté on medium heat for about 25 seconds. Add sausage meat and break meat up with a spatula or spoon.
- Cook sausage meat until browned and cooked through. Add blanched rapini to the pan and sauté for about 2 minutes.
- While meat is browning, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 2 Tablespoons of the cooking water.
- Add drained pasta to the meat and rapini mixture and reserved pasta water. Stir together until all ingredients are evenly combined. Add garlic crumbs to pasta and toss to coat. Add a drizzle of olive oil if the pasta seems dry.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve with grated parmesan cheese.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!
This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.