My friend Devaki at Weave a Thousand Flavors made a dish similar to this a few months back and I was intrigued. When I saw Anne Burrell of Food Network fame have a go at it as well, I knew I had to give it a try, as both of these gals really know what they're doing in the kitchen.
I love playing with pestos, and over the years have made them with basil, arugula, cilantro, and spinach. The word pesto derives from the Italian "pistare" which means to pound or crush, and can be made with anything that can, yes you guessed it, be readily pounded or crushed. Most folks never think beyond basil and pine nuts when they think of pesto, but I encourage you to experiment a little with combinations of greens / herbs, nuts and cheeses that you like together, and come up with a few on your own.
As I am such a huge fan of the classic Italian pasta dish of orechiette with broccoli rabe (rapini) and sausage, I decided to do a riff on it here with the rapini being blitzed into a pesto and tossed with some fresh ricotta we had in the fridge to make a creamy pasta sauce. To this I added some seared chicken sausage, sliced peppadew peppers (for a little brightness and color), and about half of the bunch of rapini left whole after blanching.
The real beauty of this dish, besides offering another way to eat rapini, is that tossing the pesto with the fresh ricotta takes the bitter edge off the rabe making it a bigger hit with the kids, and let's face it, isn't that what we're all after these days.
Cheers – Steve
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), tough lower stems removed
- 1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- EVOO as needed
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- 3/4 pound dried pasta such as penne or orechiette
- 2 chicken sausages, sliced into medallions
- 6-8 peppadew peppers, thinly sliced
- Set up an ice bath for the cooked rapini.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, toss in the rapini and cook for 2-3 minutes. Place the cooked rapini in the ice bath and allow to cool completely. Pour into a colander to drain, then shake and squeeze and excess water from the rapini before proceeding.
- Reserve about 1/3 of the rapini stalks for later, then roughly chop the balance and toss into your food processor with the garlic, nuts and parmesan cheese. Blitz to a fine paste, then add in the ricotta and blitz again to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Pour the pesto into a bowl, pour in a few glugs of EVOO and stir to incorporate and reserve.
- Bring the large pot of salted water back to a boil and cook the pasta in it, to manufacturers instructions for al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, sear the sausage medallions in a little oil in a large skillet, until nicely caramelized, then pull from the heat. Roughly chop the reserved rapini and add to the skillet with the sausage, toss in the peppadew rings as well, then the pesto. When the pasta is cooked, drain well then add to the skillet placed over low heat. Toss to combine all the ingredients, adding some pasta cooking water if needed to loosen the sauce to your liking. Check one last time for seasoning and serve in warmed bowls, with some freshly grated parmesan passed at the table.