Broccoli Rabe Pesto Pasta with Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

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Pesto made with broccoli rabe is pretty popular and it is also super nutritious. You can serve the pesto as a dip or spread for bread instead of as a sauce for pasta. I followed a recipe from Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto. If you follow the link, you will not only find the recipe, but a clip of Mario demonstrating its preparation along with that of two other pasta recipes (pasta with pureed red peppers and goat cheese and pasta with Swiss chard).

The original recipe called for orecchiette pasta, but I substituted farfalle and added in some heirloom grape tomatoes. Later, I served leftovers as a salad, with the addition of more blanched broccoli rabe and some cannellini beans.

The pesto is exceptionally good. I made twice as much pesto as I needed for the pasta, and I have been enjoying leftovers spread onto challah along with lemon chummus.

Broccoli Rabe Pesto Pasta with Heirloom Grape Tomatoes
The pesto is adapted from Mario Batali’s recipe. Taking a cue from other versions of this online, I substituted pumpkin seeds for the pine nuts, but pistachio nuts are a more popular substitution for pine nuts in broccoli rabe pesto. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, but I wanted to make it dairy-free. The pesto is supposed to be served with orecchiette, but I used farfalle (bow ties). The original recipe didn’t call for the tomatoes, but I had the tomatoes and I like the color, flavor, temperature and textural contrast of  raw tomatoes with the warm green pasta.

1/2 pound broccoli rabe, stems trimmed
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (or use pumpkin seeds or pistachio nuts)
4-6 Tbl. extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb. orecchiette or farfalle

pint heirloom grape tomatoes, halved (these should be room temperature, not chilled)

First, blanch the broccoli rabe. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 Tbl. kosher salt. Add the broccoli rabe and cook about 7 minutes. Drain the broccoli rabe, place it in a bowl ice water to stop the cooking and drain well again.

Put the garlic into the food processor and process until the garlic is finely minced. Add the broccoli rabe and nuts and process until pureed. Add the olive oil in a thin stream while the food processor is running. Transfer to a bowl. (This is the point where you would add the Romano cheese if using it). Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If making ahead, top the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil before covering and storing the pesto in the fridge.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and add the pesto. Put into a serving bowl and toss with the tomatoes (and more Romano, if using it). The pasta is supposed to be served warm (and it is at its best when it is freshly made and still warm from the pot), but it is also nice the next day room temperature as a salad. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.

Variation: To make this heartier, heat together in a skillet some olive oil and garlic, then stir in and heat through some blanched broccoli rabe (about a half pound) and a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans. Once it is all heated through, mix it into the pasta.

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