Broccoli Rabe Pesto with Orecchiette really does look like pesto.
A New York Times piece about the food of Apulia, the heel of the boot region of Italy, drove me into the kitchen to try a meatless version of the cool recipe for broccoli rabe pesto with sausage. It was created by Michael Toscano, the chef at Perla in New York. Not exactly traditional, it’s the orecchiette paired with bitter greens, a dish typical of Apulia, but the pesto or the sausage part. Nevertheless, what a great pesto variation during the no (or extra pricey) fresh basil season.
Chef Toscano’s recipe, a home run if you love the wonderful combo of Italian sausage with broccoli rabe, also contains cooked fennel which gives the pesto a hint of that basil-like licorice taste. Whizzing up the cooked sweet sausage with the rabe guarantees both tastes in every bite. And it looks just like pesto, with the huge added bonus that the beautiful bright green color doesn’t turn dark when it hits the air.
I included walnuts in the meatless version, and you can omit the fennel and/or the parmesan cheese with delicious results. Other short pasta shapes will work well, or toss the “pesto” with potatoes. If you can’t find broccoli rabe, then improvise with broccolini. The taste is not as bitter, but it works. Broccoli Rabe Pesto is hearty and satisfying and reminds me of that other wonderful mashed vegetable pasta sauce made with cauliflower and anchovy.
Broccoli Rabe Pesto Orecchiette
Broccoli Rabe Pesto tossed with pasta is a hearty dish for the fall and winter months.
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- 1 pound broccoli rabe
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- 1 pound orecchiette pasta
- Cut the rabe in half lengthwise, separating the stems from the leaves. Parboil all of the rabe (stems and leaves) in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook about 5 minutes, or until bright green and tender. Drain and cool slightly.
- Separate the leaves from the stems, reserving the stems for another use or snack on them while finishing the recipe. Remove most of the liquid from the remaining rate. You should have about 2 cups of cooked rabe. Transfer to a food processor.
- Cook the onion and fennel in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and walnuts. Continue to cook 5 more minutes. Cool slightly. Add the mixture to the food processor. Pulse until finely ground, but not completely pureed. Return the rabe pesto to the skillet.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions. Remove about a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the rabe pesto. Toss until the pasta is coated, adding splashes of the reserved pasta water as necessary. Stir in the cheese, if using. Season with salt to taste. Generously season with fresh ground pepper.
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