During long harsh winters, good produce becomes difficult to find. But dig a little deeper through the piles of wilted lettuce and you will find the lush and vibrant green rapini. Also known as broccoli rabe, rapini is a bit of an acquired taste, at least it was for me when I first had it a few years ago. Not knowing any better, I brought it home and cooked it like I would broccolini. The first bite I took was a blast of bitterness that surprised me, yet even so, as I kept eating it, I found the bold, pungent flavour to be alluring. Now that I know how to prepare it correctly, I simply can’t get enough.
Rapini can be served as a side to any main meal, topped on toast (love!) or chopped into a sandwich with a creamy cheese – super delicious. But for a classic Italian pasta dish, and an all-in-one weeknight dish where you get your protein and vegetables side-by-side, serve it with some good quality Italian-style sausage and pasta of your choice.
The key to killing the excessive bitterness in rapini is to cut or peel it’s thick stalks, boil it in lots of salty water – which you will keep for the pasta – and then sautée it in lots of extra virgin olive oil, lots of sliced (never minced) garlic and, for our taste, lots of red chili flakes. Cook it until it is tender and silky and reaches an almost butter-soft point. According to this article from Serious Eats, you almost can’t overcook it; the longer it cooks in the garlicky broth, the better it gets. Once you add the mixture of crumbled, browned sausage and pasta to the pan, the exchange of flavours collide beautifully to create the perfect family meal for these chilly long nights.
Rapini With Sausage and Pasta
- 4 sweet or hot Italian sausages about 1 pound, casing removed
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more or less to taste
- Kosher salt
- 1 bunch rapini broccoli rabe, *trimmed and rinsed
- 1 pound pasta of your choice
- Kosher or sea salt salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add 1 small handful kosher salt and the rapini (see notes below if using stalks). Cook 3-4 minutes then lift the rapini out of the water with tongs and set aside. Reserve the cooking water for the pasta.
- Place sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and crumbling, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a bowl and drain excess fat from pan.
- In the same skillet, warm the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant and garlic just begins to brown. Add the rapini and continue cooking on low until rapini becomes very tender.
- Meanwhile, bring the water back to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Using tongs, lift the cooked pasta, and the residual water that clings to it, and transfer it to the frying pan. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
- Return sausage to the skillet and stir to combine entire mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding some of the pasta water if mixture seems too dry; sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.
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