Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rigatoni with Broccolini, Garlic, Lemon & Ricotta

Last Saturday I came home from the farmers' market with a beautiful bunch of broccolini.  Since there are only two of us...and there was enough broccolini to make a side dish for four...or even six...I decided to make it the main event of our evening a pasta (of course).  It was delicious.  And since I noticed that I haven't posted any pastas yet this year(!), I thought I would share this one.

Although it still seems new-ish to me, Broccolini has actually been around for a while now.  Still, it is entirely possible that there are many who have not yet tried it.  Botanically it is a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli (sometimes called Chinese kale since it is a leafy vegetable with insignificant florets).  Broccolini has smaller florets and more slender stalks than broccoli.  I find that it has a flavor that is similar to broccoli but a bit more pungent—sort of turnip-like, in fact.  But since all of the broccolis, kales and turnips (as well as cabbages) are members of the Brassica (or mustard) family, the peppery quality is a matter of nuance and degree.  Considering this, Broccolini is relatively mild—some even say sweet—and should be well received by anyone who likes broccoli.

The slender stalks of broccolini are tender and cook just as quickly as the florets.  This makes it so that the stalks/spears can be left whole for cooking and be served as an elegant side much the same way one might serve asparagus.  Broccolini was originally called Aspiration...which probably came from a desire to suggest this style of serving (not because it is botanically related to asparagus in any way).

Like broccoli and kale, broccolini is complimented nicely by garlic, heat and lemon.  So with the addition of a little ricotta to add richness, my pasta practically made itself.  If it happens that you have never had broccolini, this pasta would be a great first bite.  And if you want to try it all on its own, just prepare as directed and serve without the noodles and cheese.

Rigatoni with Broccolini, Lemon, Garlic & Ricotta

1 bunch broccolini, trimmed of very thick/tough ends and cut on a long diagonal (about 1/2-inch thick)...florets halved if very fat (trimmed weight about 6 oz./180 g.)
2 T. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 very fat clove garlic, thinly sliced crosswise (use mandoline)
A generous pinch hot pepper flakes
6 oz./180 g. Rigatoni (or other short, sturdy, tubular pasta)
2 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 to 1 1/2 oz. pecorino, grated medium fine
3 oz. whole milk ricotta

Remove the ricotta from the refrigerator and spread it on a plate so that it will warm to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water (about a teaspoon of salt per quart).

Place 2 T. of oil in a medium sauté pan along with the garlic and pepper flakes and set over medium heat.  When the garlic begins to sizzle, drop the broccolini in the pot of water.  Cook for one minute, scoop out and add to the pan with the oil and garlic (which should be just beginning to turn golden at the edges...if it begins to color before the broccolini is ready, remove from heat and drizzle in some of the cooking water to stop the cooking).  The oil will sputter and pop when the water clinging to the florets hits the pan.  This is fine.  Continue to cook over moderate heat while the pasta cooks, stirring occasionally and letting it sizzle gently and even brown in spots, until cooked to the doneness you desire.  I like it to be tender, but not mushy.  It should still have some texture.  Set aside until the pasta is done.

As soon as you remove the broccolini from the pot, drop the pasta.  Stir to make sure the pasta isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Cook until the pasta is al dente.  Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.  Return the pan of broccolini to moderate heat and add the pasta.  Scatter the pine nuts and zest over all.  Toss, taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.  If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water.  Add most of the Pecorino and toss again.  Add more pasta water if necessary.  Finish with a drizzle of oil.  Toss again. 

To serve, divide the pasta among to plates and dollop small spoonfuls of ricotta over each serving.  Drizzle with olive oil, scatter the remaining Pecorino over and serve. 

Alternatively, dollop spoonfuls of the ricotta over the broccolini and pasta while still in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter the Pecorino over the top.  Serve from the pan.  (Do not stir the ricotta in.)  Serves 2.

Note:  The recipe is easily multiplied to serve four or more.  Choose a sauté pan that is wide enough to hold all the broccolini in a snug single layer.

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