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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.