i went to an epic italian dinner once, and a very simple orecchiette di rapini was one of the most popular courses of the evening. i created this recipe because i remember that plate so fondly; pasta and vegetables softer than you would expect, but completely intentional in this dish, where the rapini is bitter and the sauce is rich and creamy. the texture is comforting and gentle in contrast.
one thing that i loved about that pasta was that the rapini was cut up so small and cooked till tender, that it basically blended into the sauce. i did the same thing here, and i took the carbonara “route” to creaminess: egg yolks mixed with parmesan and added off the heat but while the pasta is still hot (adding the eggs to the pan or over the heat would cause them to scramble). this residual heat really should cook the eggs, but if you are timid about undercooked eggs, i trust you will do what’s right for you. as with a raw egg recipe, you want the freshest and best eggs for this. and you want to work quickly…
add the eggs to a steaming bowl of pasta and toss well. make sure your dinner partners are ready and waiting at the table, because they should know that pasta, especially this kind, waits for no one! you get their share if they are off checking email. or…if they just didn’t hear you calling them. but you really did… ahem.
Rapini Orecchiette Carbonara
1 bunch rapini, sliced thinly, leaves separated (about 8 cups total)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 dried red chili, crushed
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
400g dried orecchiette pasta
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. and add the rapini stems and flowers. After 4 minutes, add the leaves to the water for 2 more minutes. The rapini stems should be tender.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and stir occasionally, until they start to brown. Add the chili and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until the onions have caramelized. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the blanched rapini to the pan, shaking off any excess water. Add the salt and pepper, and mix well. Lower the heat and stir occasionally while the pasta cooks.
Salt the same pot of boiling water well, add pasta and cook for 7 minutes or until done.
Combine the egg yolks and cheese using a fork.
Remove rapini from heat. If your pan is large enough, add drained pasta to it, or transfer both to a large bowl. Add the egg mixture and toss quickly to make sure the pasta and rapini are coated well. Serve immediately.