The new vegetables are coming, and the artichokes and the spinach. The first asparagus are up in Southern California. But I have only a few things that lure me until then — and rapini is one of the best. It suits the winter, grumpy, bent, a little bitter.
- Trim the ends, and soak about half a bunch in cold water, to refresh. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, salt it liberally, and add the rapini. But only for 60 seconds, little more than the water coming back to a boil. Lift-it out onto a strainer and set aside.
- Heat the oven to 350 and add on a cookie sheet some leftover bread, torn to small pieces, crusts cut off. Let these cook until slightly browned, then pull out, salt and pepper them, and set aside in a bowl. Crush them a little with your hand, then add a little olive oil to them.
- Rinse the big pot and add fresh water and bring that to a boil, adding more salt. Chop three cloves of garlic and a couple of slices off a hot jalapeño pepper. Heat a medium creuset pan on low to get it ready.
- Use any pasta, but ones with curls and bends seem to mingle the best with rapini and garlic. Put the pasta in the boiling water, four minutes if fresh and 10-12 if dried.
- Add a good amount of olive oil to the sauté/creuset pan, then the chopped garlic, and pepper, and even some dried red pepper and stir.
- Pull the rapini off the strainer, lay it on the cutting board and cut it three times or so across its lengths. As the garlic warms and smells, add the rapini to the pan, stirring well, and some salt and cracked pepper, keep it tossing.
When the pasta is done, add it, wet but shaken, to the rapini and stir some more. Add more salt to the pasta and a good handful of grated pecorino/and/or parmesan cheese. Take off the heat and toss and taste. May need some olive oil to loosen, or even a little pasta water. Add half of the bread crumbs.
Should be ready. Serve with extra grated cheese and the rest of the bread crumbs and fresh pepper and a last line of olive oil. The treat of winter bitters. I like the pecorino as it gums up and loves mucking about. The bread crumbs, crunchy and crispy, keep the pasta upbeat. Upbeat in winter.