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Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas

Many cooks outside of Italy have at last discovered broccoli rabe—a vegetable with tender leaves and small, broccoli-like florets—but it is rarely cooked properly. The secret is to boil the greens briefly in salted water before sautéing to mellow their bitter edge and tenderize the stalks.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. (1 kg) broccoli rabe
  • 3 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 small dried chilies or a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup (7 oz./220 g) drained cooked chickpeas, well rinsed
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • 3/4 lb. (375 g) rigatoni

Directions:

Using a small, sharp knife or vegetable peeler, peel away the thick skin from the tough lower stalks of the broccoli rabe (most of the bottom stalk portion). Cut crosswise into 3-inch (7.5-cm) lengths. Place in a bowl, add cold water to cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Fill a saucepan three-fourths full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the greens and add to the boiling water along with 1 Tbs. of the kosher salt. Cover partially and cook for 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil.

While the broccoli rabe is cooking, in a fry pan large enough to accommodate the pasta later, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilies, reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté gently until the garlic colors, about 5 minutes. Drain the greens and add them, still dripping wet, to the fry pan. Increase the heat to medium, stir well and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are heated through and the greens are tender, about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring 5 quarts (5 l) water to a rapid boil. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. kosher salt and the pasta, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package instructions.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce in the pan and toss to combine, adding up to a few tablespoons of the cooking water if needed to moisten the sauce so that it coats the pasta nicely. Transfer to a warmed large, shallow serving bowl or individual shallow bowls and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The Pasta Book, by Julia della Croce (Weldon Owen, 2010).