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.
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.
(I swear my parents do love me.)
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.
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).
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 anchovy fillets, minced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoons red pepper flakes, plus more for garnishing
- Two 15 1/2-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed (I used cannellini, but any kind of white bean is fine)
- 1 1/3 cups vegetable stock (homemade or low-sodium)
- 1 splash heavy cream (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound orecchiette, penne, or other short, tubular pasta
- 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, washed well, trimmed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 lemon
- Fresh ricotta, for garnishing (optional)
- Grated Pecorino Romano, for garnishing