I think I’ve invented a recipe. But I have to be honest. First, I stole it from my cousin. Then, because I didn’t like her version so much, I changed it. Now I’m wondering if I can truly be credited for the recipe, or if I have engaged in some sort of familial plagiarism. It’s too much to handle right now, so I’ll just figure it out later.
When my cousin Lucy visited us from Italy this past Christmas, she set a day aside and cooked a rustic, multi-course feast for my family. I immediately focused on the primo, orrechiette with a pureed broccoli rabe, lentil, and ground sausage sauce. I expected to love this dish, as I have rarely encountered a pasta I didn’t like. But, sadly, the sausage added too much heft to what should have been a pleasing combination of two of my favorite vegetables. The orrechiette struggled to breathe under the thick of it all.
Two months later I found myself in my kitchen, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I actually had some orrechiette on hand, as well as a slightly wilting head of broccoli rabe. I checked inside the pantry, where a container of lentils, half-full, waited to be emptied. Whenever I can finish a container of anything from our overstuffed pantry I get very excited, so I struggled to contain myself for a moment.
And that’s when my moment of thievery occurred. I started cooking lentils and washing and chopping broccoli rabe while the water boiled for the orrechiette. As the pasta cooked, I sauteed some garlic and red pepper flakes in a large pan with olive oil, and then added the broccoli rabe until it was cooked through and (even more) wilted.
When the pasta was done, I mixed everything together and happily observed the resulting earth-toned palette. The orrechiette did double-duty as little cups, providing easy access to the lentils, those meaty bits of protein, while the bitter greens imparted a sparkling bite of color and crunchiness. This interplay of textures, missing from Lucy’s version, was what I enjoyed most. Also, the lack of sausage helped create a lighter and fresher dish.
This lentil-and-broccoli combo has already become part of my pasta rotation, and last week I added some sauteed grape tomatoes, just for fun. They added an undercurrent of sweetness into the established mix, as well as a nice splash of color.
So, while I borrowed freely from my cousin’s recipe, I did my best to make it my own. I prefer to say I was “inspired” by Lucy’s recipe. Now I am wondering what I can learn (steal) the next time she comes to visit.
Here’s the recipe, for those who wish to become partners in this crime:
- 1 lb. orrechiette
- 1 head broccoli rabe, washed and chopped
- 1/2 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
- 12 or more grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
- red pepper flakes
- olive oil
- Grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
Start cooking the lentils while water boils for the pasta: add the lentils to a pot, cover them generously with water, throw on a lid, and bring to a boil. Once the lentils are boiling, stir and then lower the heat. They should only take about 15-20 minutes to cook. When they are done, drain and set aside. It’s ok if the lentils sit for a little while while you finish the rest of the recipe.
Once the pasta water is boiling, salt the water and add the orrechiette. Heat a bit of olive oil in your saute pan, and add the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the garlic is sizzling and starting to turn color, add the tomatoes. When the tomatoes have started to soften, add the broccoli rabe and a pinch of salt. Cover with a lid but stir occasionally. Cook the greens until they are just wilted.
Drain the pasta when it is done. Then throw in the lentils, broccoli, and tomatoes, and mix it all up. Add a splash of olive oil, as well as some pepper and salt. Top with some pecorino romano or parmesan cheese. Enjoy!