Penne with Broccoli Rabe

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Broccoli rabe is usually the first thing I buy at the farmer’s market when the weather gets warmer. It’s a transitional vegetable: something that bridges us from the dark and murky vegetables of winter to the bright and sprightly vegetables of summer. Raw, it tastes rather fresh and green, but cooked, it takes on all these wonderful qualities–it becomes bitter and complex and, as Lydia Bastianich says when she cooks with it on this old episode of Julia Child: “almondy.”

The word “almondy” surprised me when I first heard Lydia say it, but when I ate it this weekend–I cooked it up with some penne, as you’ll soon see–that word felt absolutely right. Broccoli rabe is almondy in that almonds are a little bitter, a little sweet, and, the more you chew them, the more interesting they become.

The best thing about broccoli rabe, though, is that it’s incredibly easy to cook. Sliver lots and lots of garlic (I used a whole head, about 8 cloves) and put them in a pan coated with olive oil (about 1/4 cup.)

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Take your bunches of broccoli rabe, dunk them in a big bowl of cold water and look for dirt in the water when you lift it. If it’s dirty, empty the bowl, refill it and dunk it again. Keep doing this until your dunka dunk has no more dirt in it. (I get 5 points for using “dunka dunk” in a recipe.)

When your broccoi rabe is clean, you don’t even need to dry it off (the residual water will help the broccoli rabe steam.) Just cut it up. I cut off the bottom most parts of the stems and throw them away (though you can peel them and cook them, I’m sure they’re good.) Then slice the remaining broccoli rabe into 1/2 inch pieces. It’s really easy:

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Now get a big pot of water boiling, salt it and drop in 1 lb of penne. Meanwhile, turn the heat on under your oil and garlic. When it starts to sizzle, add some red pepper flakes (to taste) and toast until the garlic just begins to turn golden brown.

Now’s the time to add your broccoli rabe; a good idea would be to add as much of it as you can all at once (that way it doesn’t sputter and spatter all over you (you see, because oil and water don’t mix and that oil is hot.))

So drop in all your broccoli rabe, add a big sprinkling of salt and put a lid on it. Walk away. Turn down the heat a tad and let it go for a minute or two, take the lid off, stir it all around, put the lid back on and keep going until that broccoli rabe is wilted, a few minutes more. (If it looks dry in there when you lift the lid, add some of the pasta cooking water.)

After about 5 minutes, take the lid off and take a look:

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Looking good!

Now add a little more pasta cooking water so you have something of a sauce and, if you’re like Lydia, you could add butter here (but that seemed too decadent to me).

Your pasta should be done around now and still al dente (don’t overcook it!) so use a spider and lift it into the broccoli rabe, stir it all around so the pasta absorbs some of those broccoli rabe juices, then turn off the heat, add a glug or two of cold olive oil (this brings out the flavor) and lots and lots of either Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

Look at this big bowl of goodness:

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It’s healthy, it’s seasonal, and it’s cheap. What else can you say about it except badonkadonk donk.

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