Today: A pasta recipe we never thought would work -- plus two tricks for getting more out of your weeknight pasta routine.
There are some recipes where, as soon as you start to list off the ingredients, everyone around you perks up. You're spinning poetry; you're singing a song that speaks to them. It's why we love reading cookbooks as much as we love to cook from them: We are vicariously, imaginatively eating.
This recipe isn't one of those. Instead of harp strings, it's a can thudding down the stairs. You'll have to take a leap of faith, as I did, and it will be worth it. I just hope you'll realize it more quickly.
I first heard about this recipe more than three years ago, right after this column launched. The Kitchn started a conversation with their audience about what makes a Genius Recipe, and I was lucky enough to see what they came up with.
But I hesitated when I heard about this one, from reader cedargr0: "Broccoli, broccoli rabe, salami, raisins ... jalapeños? Boiling the sauce down to dry ... twice? I still don't know why I was brave enough to make the this the first time. But it is FANTASTIC. Genius." Cedargr0 forgot to mention that you top it with a fistful of shredded Asiago cheese at the end.
None of this sounds good. You've got a whole lot of aggressive flavors banging up against each other in what seems a misguided act of Mexitalian fusion. But Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift of The Splendid Table know what they're doing, and how to shake up expectations without going too far. (For more reasons to overcome your skepticism, see their genius refried beans with cinnamon and clove.)
Here, the sweet raisins and softened onions temper the jalapeño's spice and salami's salty funk, and there's just enough of the more agreeable variety of broccoli to make sure that the bitter rabe doesn't take over, as it often does. Dousing the pan with water and boiling it all down (twice) also mellows any lingering attitude problems, by forcing everything to break down and mingle.
More: 5 new pasta sauces to add to your repertoire.
Beyond this recipe, which I encourage you to follow verbatim, there are two techniques at play here that you can use anytime.
First off: Instead of tossing your pasta with loose odds and ends, you can form a better, more cohesive sauce -- unleashing their flavors and stretching them further -- by boiling them down with a little water.
Second: Consider throwing vegetables in to blanch with your pasta -- the water is already salted anyway, and it's one less pot (and strainer) to clean. It's a little daring, not being able to control exactly how done they are, but it pays off in unspent dishes and the pride that comes with efficiency -- and you'll get better at timing, the more you experiment. Here it's broccoli, but it could just as easily be peas or greens, carrots or corn.
Not only is this dish better than you'd ever expect, but it makes a very good cold pasta salad the next day too -- a happy thing, because the recipe generously stretches a pound of pasta to feed four, with plenty to spare.
From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper (Clarkson Potter, 2008)
Serves 4 as a main dish
For the sauce:
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 ounces Genoa salami, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 jalapenos, finely chopped (seeded if you want less heat)
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup water
1/3 cup raisins
For the pasta:
1 large bunch (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) broccoli
1 to 1 1/4 pounds broccoli rabe
1 pound cavatappi, rotini, or fusilli
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded Stella Fontinella, Asiago, or young sheep cheese
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom