In my humble opinion, there’s cooking and there’s cooking. (I know, I’ll just give you a minute for the staggering profundity of that sentence to kick in.) What I mean is, it’s one thing to turn banana bread into a crepe, that crepe into a cake, that cake into a vehicle for walnut butterscotch, drooling, diet-postponing, and seconds, and it’s an entirely other thing to find yourself at the playground at 5:15 p.m. and realize a) you don’t actually have anything in the fridge that you can turn into dinner, b) you, in fact, barely feel like cooking, in fact, your interest in cooking is only a single degree stronger than your desire to order in, so this better be easy, and c) the adjacent farmers market which you have heard from others boasts ramps and asparagus and spinach and other new! spring! delights! in fact, at the tail end of the day, boasts few things aside from a straggler of a single bundle of broccoli rabe. And you like broccoli rabe, you’ve warmed to it quite a bit since you’ve accepted it into your life, but you hardly excel in turning it into a lightning-quick, lazy, and completely satisfying dinner (or LQLACSD for short).
Or, I didn’t before last Wednesday afternoon. This thing where you can grab anything at random without a shopping list in hand or recipe in mind and transform it effortlessly into a LQLACSD, this is real cooking. This is what separates those grandmothers that cranked out dinner like clockwork every night for 60 years, that didn’t throw in the towel because they only had canned peas and stale rice in the pantry, from the dilettantes. And people? Over 750 recipes into this site, I’m still getting there. Sometimes a simple recipe, one that you make once and instantly memorize and throw into the dinner rotation, helps.
And this is how by 6 p.m. I had I turned that bundle of broccoli rabe — a vegetable I love but don’t have a sixth sense for, at least not yet — into my new favorite pasta dish. I found inspiration in a 2006 recipe from Gourmet, showered it with punchy romano cheese, and retired for the evening with happy bellies and only a few dishes to wash. It is dinner, salad and a vegetable dish in one. It is quick. It could be dolled up in any number of ways — toasted breadcrumbs, minced capers or green olives, some ricotta — but it needs none of these to delight. To be dinner tonight, but 20 minutes after you bring home the groceries on a day too lovely to be fiddling over the stove. Hallelujah.
One year ago: Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll
Two years ago: Classic Cobb Salad and Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce
Three years ago: Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage
Four years ago: Caramelized Shallots and Peanut Sesame Noodles
Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe
Adapted, just a smidge, from Gourmet, September 2006
The original recipe calls for spaghetti, but I prefer short, chunky pastas that are spear-able by toddler forks. I fell for a “toscani” shape, though it also looks like campanelle, “little bells.” I think it looks like pretty, pretty locks of hair.
So, unless I think the texture of a salt really makes a difference in a dish, I usually default to table salt in my recipes, because it’s cheap and everyone keeps it around (and, better that someone uses a coarse salt for a table salt volume and undersalts a dish than the other, irreversible, way around). But! Not here. Please don’t use table salt. Most table salt is iodized and that iodine can turn your garlic a weird bright blue/green color. It will still be safe to eat but look… disturbing. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
1 pound pasta, whatever shape you like (but chunky ones will match up better with the rabe)
1 pound broccoli rabe, heavy stems removed, remaining stems and leaves cut into 1- to 2-inch sections (I attempt to match my pasta in length)
1/2 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more or less to taste
About 1 heaping teaspoon Kosher salt (or more to taste)
To serve: Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (omit, of course, if keeping the dish vegan)
Bring a huge pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and five minutes before its cooking time is up, add the broccoli rabe. It will seem like too much for the water, but with a stir or two, the rabe should wilt and cook alongside the pasta. Drain rabe and pasta together and pour into serving bowl. In the same pot or a tiny one, heat the olive oil with the garlic, pepper flakes and Kosher salt over moderate heat, stirring frequently for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the garlic becomes lightly golden. Pour mixture over pasta and toss to evenly coat. Shower with freshly grated cheese and eat at once.