Rapini and Gemelli with Pecorino Romano

Rapini and Gemelli with Pecorino Romano
Rate it!

rapini and gemelli with Pecorino Romano
With a bit of cheese, perfect!

Remember last Wednesday when we talked about rapini? About how it could be bitter, especially if not cooked correctly? And that we’d let you know how to cook up that bunch of rapini that you picked up at a farmers’ market or CSA to perfection? Today’s the day!

We’ve read a bit about rapini, and how to cook it properly. Basically, you need to blanch it in salted water first to remove the bitterness. Then you can cook it any way that you’d like. We decided simply to blanch it along with boiling pasta, and serve the two in the simplest way. Just follow along and you’ll scratch out a nice dinner.

Rapini and Gemelli with Pecorino Romano

Yield: 2 servings

Rapini and Gemelli with Pecorino Romano


  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flake
  • 6-8 ounces dried gemelli or other pasta shape
  • 2 Tbs salt
  • 1 bunch rapini, or other bitter-tasting greens, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan for garnish

Abbreviated Instructions

Heat oil, garlic, and red pepper in a large skillet over very low heat. The garlic should just simmer and not brown. If the garlic begins to brown, remove from heat as needed.

Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts of water and the 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Add pasta and boil according to directions until 3 minutes remain. Remove about 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside.

Add greens and bring back to a boil and cook until both pasta and greens are done. Drain completely.

Increase the heat under the garlic and oil to medium, and, when hot, add the drained pasta and greens, stirring to coat, and simmer. Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and simmer until it thickens into a light sauce. If needed, add more pasta water.

Serve immediately in warmed bowls topped with grated cheese.


Ingredient discussion:

This meal will use a lot of greens all at once, but the exact amount isn’t critical; use what you’d consider to be a bunch.

We often make dishes like this from a variety of vegetables, perhaps broccoli, peas and carrots, and so on, but this technique is perfect for those bitter greens such as rapini, kale, or mustard greens. Cooking them in the heavily salted water along with the pasta blanches them, removing the bitterness. You do have to be careful so as not to overcook the greens, or they’ll resemble a wet mop. Think canned spinach and you’ll be careful. We specifically chose gemelli pasta for this dish — it’s simply our favorite shape — but use any shape that you have on hand.

Procedure in detail:

infusing oil
You’re trying to infuse the oil with flavor, not cook the garlic, so low heat is what you want.

Heat oil and aromatics. You don’t really want the garlic and red pepper to cook and brown; instead, you want to infuse the oil with their flavor by warming it. So, place the oil, garlic, and red pepper flake in a large skillet over very low heat, and let the heat work its magic. Ideally, it should be warm enough that small bubbles will pop up around the garlic, but not so hot as to brown it. If the garlic begins to brown, remove the pan from the heat and just let everything steep while you prepare the rest.

Boil pasta. Bring about 3 quarts of water and the 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Yes, the water is salty, very salty. Don’t worry; most of that salt will be drained away, but enough salt will be left in the vegetables and the pasta so that you won’t need to add more later. Once the salted water is boiling, add the pasta, and note the time it takes until the pasta is done, because you’ll want to add the greens 3 minutes before it’s ready.

scooping out pasta water
We use a measuring cup to scoop out some of the pasta water.

Scoop out pasta water. We’ll use some of the pasta water to make a light sauce, so scoop out about a cup from the kettle and set it aside. We use a measuring cup with a handle as a dipper. Don’t worry about the exact amount; anywhere between a 1/2 cup and a cup will be fine.

blanching greens
The water will come back to a boil quickly, blanching the greens.

Add greens. Put the greens in with the boiling pasta and continue to cook. If you added them at just the right time, both the pasta and the greens will be perfectly cooked simultaneously. Otherwise, we think you’re better off with slightly underdone pasta, so you should drain when the greens are perfect.

draining pasta
Let the pasta and greens drain while you bring up the temperature of the oil.

Drain. Pour the greens and pasta into a colander and drain completely. You’ll probably need to shake them around a bit to get all the water to drain.

Heat oil. Now’s the time to increase the heat under the oil to medium so the garlic can sauté for just a minute. Not long — you don’t want it to burn — just the slightest hint of browning is perfect.

adding pasta and greens
Stir everything as soon as it hits the pan so the pasta gets coated with oil and doesn’t start sticking.

Add pasta and greens. Add the pasta and greens to the hot oil and stir to coat. Continue cooking and stirring until the pasta starts to stick just a bit on the bottom of the skillet and everything is mostly heated through, about 2 minutes.

adding pasta water
The secret of many Italian dishes: adding some pasta water.

Add pasta water. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer, stirring as you work. The pasta water will thicken slightly from the starch that leached into it. As it thickens, add more pasta water until you have a light, slightly thickened sauce.

Season. Taste and add freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Serve. Divide immediately into warmed bowls and top with grated cheese.

This is one of our favorite fast meals. It’s easy, filling, and quite tasty, and it’s perfect for greens that are bitter, such as rapini, removing the bitterness and leaving behind a great-tasting vegetable. If you’re efficient in the kitchen, you can make this from start to finish in about 30 minutes, perfect for when you’re really hungry and don’t want to wait a long time. Or, it’s perfect for those days when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but still want a great meal. Either way, keep it in mind for dinner. Five stars.

Worth the trouble?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *