I first discovered this dish while spending a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. Every Wednesday, I attended a cooking class aptly titled ‘The Foods of Italy.’ Each week we focused on a new regional dish. We covered it all: Sicilian stuffed squid, Northern Italian osso bucco and a memorable Tuscan pâté of chopped cuore (I dare you to Google it). Each class was topped off with plenty of vino, poured by our beloved professor. La dolce vita, no?
One of the standout dishes from class was orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe (cime di rape). This dish is common in the Apulia region, where hearty winter vegetables are plentiful. Orecchiette means “little ears”, a testament to their small rounded shape. The pasta is a prefect complement to vegetables, especially greens, peas and beans.
This particular dish requires only a few ingredients and is ready in the time it takes to boil pasta. While I love the slight bitterness of broccoli rabe, I have been known to substitute spinach, escarole, traditional broccoli, and in my most recent rendition, kale. You may know kale as the lowly vegetable gracing the edge of your plate at a diner. Beyond a garnish, kale is chock full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals like calcium, lutein, iron, and Vitamins A, C, and K, to name a few. Late fall is the peak season for kale; be sure to buy a crisp bunch and trim off the stalks before cooking.
1 lb. orecchiette pasta
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans
1 large bunch kale, washed, trimmed and chopped
3-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt and Pepper
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino, optional
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Saute garlic a few minutes, until golden; be sure not to burn garlic.
Drain and rinse cannellini beans; set aside. When water is boiling, add pasta and cook until almost al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Add chopped kale directly into pot with pasta and cook, stirring to wilt greens, until pasta is done and kale has reduced in size. Warm beans in skillet with garlic.
Drain pasta and greens and add to skillet; toss to combine. Add reserved pasta water and a bit more olive oil Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper; toss to combine.
Serve with or without grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.
Tip: To reheat pasta, add a few tablespoons of water or vegetable broth before heating in microwave.