Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and White Beans

Creamy canned cannellini beans pair with spicy broccoli rabe for an easy weeknight pasta dish.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and White Beans
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is a classic dish from Puglia; lightly dressed with olive oil and Parmesan, this dish makes for a quick and satisfying weeknight meal. To balance out the slightly bitter flavor of the broccoli rabe, we decided to include savory, buttery white beans. To ensure that the thick stalks, tender leaves, and small florets of the broccoli rabe cooked evenly, we boiled them briefly, pulling them from the pot just as they turned crisp-tender. To boost the flavor of the dish, we cooked a shallot with garlic, oregano, and fennel seeds before adding our beans and allowing them to warm through. You can substitute 2 pounds of broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets, for the broccoli rabe.

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano or ¼ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 pound orecchiette
2 ounces Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated (1 cup)

1. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, oregano, fennel seeds, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in beans and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes; set aside.
2. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add broccoli rabe and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer broccoli rabe to skillet with bean mixture.
3. Return water to boil, add pasta, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add bean–broccoli rabe mixture, Parmesan, and ⅓ cup reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust
consistency with remaining ⅔ cup reserved cooking water as needed. Serve.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage FAST
Omit shallot, oregano, fennel seeds, and cannellini beans and decrease oil to 2 tablespoons. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add 8 ounces hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; set aside and continue with recipe as directed.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Greens, Beans, and Pancetta
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Whole-wheat pasta, hearty greens, and savory beans are humble ingredients on their own, but when combined, they can make a rustic, full-flavored Italian dish. We wanted to retain the complex flavor of this satisfying dish but make it an easy and quick midweek meal. To start, we opted to use kale or collard greens, since they require only a quick braise. This meant that we could easily infuse them with aromatic flavors like onion, garlic, spicy red pepper flakes, and chicken broth. The greens, beans, and sauce had to cook with the pasta for only a few minutes to create a harmonious dish. We preferred whole-wheat pasta to regular, as the wheat stood up to the bold flavors of the sauce and complemented the earthiness of the greens. To round out the flavor of the dish, we added crisp, savory pancetta and silky fontina. To give our creamy pasta a bit of textural contrast, we served it with Parmesan bread crumbs. Prosciutto can be substituted for the pancetta. For a spicier dish, use the larger amount of pepper flakes.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼–½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ pounds kale or collard greens, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1 cup Parmesan Bread Crumbs

Cooking Pasta 101
Cooking pasta seems simple, but perfect pasta takes some finesse. Here’s how we do it in the test kitchen.

To prevent sticking, you’ll need 4 quarts of water to cook up to 1 pound of dried pasta. Pasta leaches starch as it cooks; without plenty of water to dilute it, the starch will coat the noodles and they will stick. Use a pot with at least a 6-quart capacity so that the water won’t boil over.

Adding salt to the pasta cooking water is essential; it seasons and adds flavor to the pasta. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 quarts of water. Be sure to add the salt with the pasta, not before, so it will dissolve and not stain the pot.

It’s a myth that adding oil to pasta cooking water prevents the pasta from sticking together as it cooks. Adding oil to cooking water just creates a slick on the surface of the water, doing nothing for the pasta. And when you drain the pasta, the oil prevents the pasta sauce from adhering. To prevent pasta from sticking, simply stir the pasta for a minute or two when you add it to the boiling water, then stir occasionally while it’s cooking.

The timing instructions given on the box are almost always too long and will result in mushy, overcooked pasta. Tasting is the best way to check for doneness. We typically prefer pasta cooked al dente, when it still has a little bite left in the center.

Reserve about ½ cup of cooking water before draining the pasta—the water is flavorful and can help loosen a thick sauce.

Drain the pasta in a colander, but don’t rinse the pasta; it washes away starch and makes the pasta taste watery. Do let a little cooking water cling to the cooked pasta to help the sauce adhere.

If you’re using a large serving bowl for the pasta, place it under the colander while draining the pasta. The hot water heats up the bowl, which keeps the pasta warm longer.

Buying Whole-Wheat Pasta
Supermarket shelves now carry a wide range of whole-wheat and multigrain pasta. To find the brand with the best nutty, complex flavor and firm, springy texture, we put 18 brands to the test. Some were puzzlingly similar to white pasta, with none of the hearty, nutty flavor we were looking for, and others were heavy, dense, and rough. So what did our tasting panel find? First, most of the 100 percent whole-wheat and 100 percent whole-grain pastas fell quickly to the bottom of the rankings, garnering descriptions like mushy, doughy, sour, and fishy. But there was one dark horse in the bunch, Italian-made Bionaturae Organic 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti, made entirely of whole wheat but with an appealing chew and firm texture like the pasta with little or no whole grains. The manufacturer’s secret? Custom milling (which ensures good flavor), extrusion through a bronze die (which helps build gluten in the dough), and a slower drying process at low temperatures (which yields sturdier pasta).


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