Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe

broccolirabe1 If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know by now that I'm a self proclaimed ingredient-adder. I've got issues leaving things simple: I find myself constantly tempted to tinker, to add just one more spice or sauce or vegetable or seed or something. I've been working on it, folks, really I have, but it ain't easy.

As much as I'm inclined to clean out my pantry into a recipe, there are certain recipes that are not to be futzed with. One of those recipes is Marcella Hazan's pasta with broccoli rabe. Hazan is a legendary Italian cook and cookbook author. Her directions are so very precise, her knowledge and expertise so colossal, I'd be crazy to fiddle with her ingredients or proportions. broccolirabe2

You've probably seen broccoli rabe in the grocery store or farmers' market: it's usually a medium-sized head of greens with a couple very young broccoli florets poking out the top. It's leafy and bitter, and according to Adam, the Amateur Gourmet (who quotes Lydia Bastianich and Julia Child, who am I to disagree?), it gets more complex with every chew. Broccoli rabe -- also known as rapini -- is absolutely delicious on pasta paired with anchovies, crushed chili peppers, and parmesan cheese. I used whole wheat rigatoni (see the smoke coming out of Marcella Hazan's ears? yikes) but as she says, the "natural match" for this sauce is orecchiete, which are shaped like miniature flying saucers. She also recommends using salt-preserved anchovy fillets, preferably prepared at home. While the idea of using fresh, home-prepped anchovies makes my mouth water, their very short shelf life has always deterred me from actually doing it, and I tend to stick with the high-quality oil-packed ones. They're available at most high-end markets; these days, most every grocery store has them, usually in oil-packed jars and in squeezable tubes. (I recommend the jars, not the tubes -- anchovy toothpaste isn't the hottest idea.)

One final note about this recipe before you run out to grab that anchovy toothpaste. This one's for the anchovy-haters -- I know you're out there. If you're even still reading this, I'm impressed that you didn't see the word "anchovy" and run away. Point is, please don't hate on the anchovies. They're so, so delicious, and they really are mashed into a paste in many recipes, so you don't have to see them. And frankly, nothing can replace that unmistakable taste of anchovy. So take a big breath and give'em a try. If you hate'em, sorry, and I guess I owe you a few bucks. If you love'em, you can thank me for giving you the extra nudge.

Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe from Marcella Hazan

1 pound dried orecchiette or other pasta 2 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 1 bunch rapini, about 1 pound, trimmed 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided 3 anchovy fillets, chopped 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions, in well-salted water; drain, reserving some of the pasta water, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rapini; cook until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain in colander; cool under cold running water, drain, and set aside.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in anchovies, pressing lightly with a spatula to help break up the fillets. Cook 1 minute. Stir in rapini, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic softens, about 5 minutes.

3. Toss pasta with rapini mixture in a large serving bowl. If extra liquid is necessary to unclump pasta or make rapini more easily integrated, add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and cheese; toss.