Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

Often confused with broccolini and broccoli, broccoli rabe has a very different flavor.  While broccoli is sweet and broccolini is even sweeter, broccoli rabe is slightly bitter.  The flavor reminds me of a more amped up collard green or Brussels sprout, but definitely nothing like broccoli.  In fact, it is more closely related to a turnip than to broccoli!

I used fresh broccoli rabe for this recipe; however, there are some US companies that make frozen broccoli rabe, including Whole Foods’ 365 brand and Woodstock.  Fresh or frozen broccoli rabe will work for this recipe.  I like to buy it fresh, because I find the frozen variety is heavy on “stems” (kind of like when you buy frozen broccoli!).  You can eat the stems, but at the end of the day, it’s stems.

If you have a hard time finding broccoli rabe or you aren’t a huge fan of it’s bitterness, you can substitute broccoli or broccolini. It will be a different dish than this recipe intends, but all the ingredients will still work together.

Broccoli rabe has it’s place in Italian food, particularly the food from Southern Italy.  For this recipe, crushed red pepper, lemon juice, garlic, fennel seed, sun-dried tomatoes, and cannellini beans create a quick, elegant meal.  It’s perfect for a night that you are tight on time, but don’t want to eat the same old pasta dish.  If it feels a little dry to you, drizzle some of the oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes over it, add a bit more lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, and mix thoroughly.

For a variation, ditch the lemon juice and sun-dried tomatoes, and add a can of diced tomatoes to the sautéed garlic.  It will bring some of the sweetness and sour flavors to counter the bitter notes from the broccoli rabe.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

1 12 ounce package of orecchiette pasta

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

½-1 tsp crushed red pepper

¼ tsp fennel seed

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drain off any oil before using

1 Tbsp fresh oregano OR ½ tsp dried oregano

4 cups fresh broccoli rabe or 1 16 ounce bag of frozen broccoli rabe

2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

¼-⅓ cup lemon juice

1 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Garlic powder, to sprinkle

Shredded non-dairy cheese, to top (optional)

Lemon wedges, to serve

1. Prepare pasta according to directions on the bag.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

2. In a large skillet, add olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, fennel seed, sun-dried tomatoes and oregano.  Sauté over medium-low heat for 3 minutes–constantly stirring everything around.  Add broccoli rabe, and continue stirring around for 3 more minutes or until broccoli rabe starts to wilt.  

3. Add lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and pasta, and sauté for 30 seconds.  Stir in cannellini beans.  Add salt, black pepper, and taste.  Adjust seasonings.  Top with a sprinkle of garlic powder.  Stir in shredded non-dairy cheese if using.  Serve with wedges of lemon.

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