Weeknight Cooking

This Pasta Exceeds Expectations, Is Truly Weeknight-Appropriate

December  2, 2015

I tend to have unreasonably high expectations—especially when it comes to pasta.

It's because I spent most of my childhood and adolescence eating plain pasta with my dinner. And I’m not talking about pasta that errs on the side of plain, dressed only with butter and Parmesan and chile flakes.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

No, I’m talking about plain ass pasta: No cheese, no fat, no flavor; pasta dry enough to eat with my fingers, then run those same fingers across a silk blouse with no risk of tainting it with pesto or red sauce or chili oil anything else that might possibly be considered good-tasting.

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(I swear my parents do love me.)

Cacio e pepe errs on the side of plain but is far from it. Photo by Bobbi Lin

The pasta I ate at my kitchen table was nothing food, unrelated to the pasta dishes I occasionally ordered at restaurants. To even attempt to make pasta desirable at home was futile, never even considered.

But that was before I met my boyfriend, who regularly has spaghetti with ricotta, Parmesan, and anchovies as an 11 P.M. "snack," or my Food52 colleagues, who've demonstrated time and time again that pasta is best when it's not plain.

Now that I know what pasta can be—brothy and creamy and at peace amidst so many vegetables and cheeses and nuts and raisins (?!)—there's no going back: I'm spoiled now.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

When I came across Broccoli Rabe and Orecchiette with White Bean-Anchovy Sauce on the Cook's Illustrated website, it seemed to fulfill all of my great expectations: creamy beans; bitter greens that cook with the pasta; and a brothy, fishy sauce—all in under 30 minutes.

But the results were disappointing: The pasta was mostly dry and the "sauce" mythical—a case where the name of the recipe tasted better than the food itself. I fished for rabe and beans, nudging all else aside.

To turn it into what I had imagined it would be—where the orecchiette was not in the way of the sauce but empowered by it—I upped the amount of broth; added cream and ricotta for richness (though you can omit those at your discretion); and mashed the beans to a soft consistency. For brightness and spice, there's lemon juice and red pepper flakes.

Ready quickly (with minimal mess), incredibly flavorful, satisfying enough to eat alone yet acceptable to serve to company, this pasta meets all of my criteria (and I hope yours, too).

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • JanieMac
  • nancy essig
    nancy essig
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


JanieMac December 19, 2015
This is a great dish that doesn't need much shopping or much time - it didn't really need the ricotta either, but we really enjoyed it. I would add more anchovy next time (maybe yours were bigger)
nancy E. December 3, 2015
I think calling it "the holy grail" is reaching