Need some comfort food? A warm bowl of cavatelli and cannellini beans tossed with spicy 'Nduja tomato sauce is the perfect anecdote to winter's final blast. Adding Broccoli Rabe Strascinata makes this dish so good you'll smile through dinner. Typical of southern Italy, lightly toasted breadcrumbs top this pasta dish, but you can add grated aged cheese too. For a meatless version, substitute hot chili peppers for the 'Nduja. Easily adjustable, increase or decrease quantities as you wish.
4 main-course servings. Cooking Time is about 40 minutes.
‘Nduja Tomato Sauce:
3 tablespoons (44 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 56 g) 'Nduja or to taste
1 cup (8 ounces or 235 ml) tomato passata or sauce
1 28-ounce (828 g) can whole peeled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juice
Dried oregano to taste
Salt to taste – near the end of cooking because ‘Nduja was previously seasoned
1 15-ounce (425 g) can cannellini beans (1 1/2 cups or 355 ml drained volume)
Broccoli Rabe Strascinata:
1 pound (454 g) broccoli rabe
3 tablespoons (44 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 peeled large garlic cloves, slightly crushed or to taste
Salt to taste
Ground red cayenne pepper to taste
Grated aged Pecorino or Caciocavallo to taste, optional
Recommended Pasta: 1 pound (454 g) cavatelli or orecchiette.
Cheese: Choose a salty aged cheese, such as freshly grated aged Pecorino or Caciocavallo cheese.
Breadcrumbs: Lightly toasted breadcrumbs typically top many pasta dishes. They substitute for a grated cheese topping or can be added with the cheese. 6 tablespoons (2 ounces or 56 g) lightly toasted breadcrumbs
1. ‘Nduja Tomato Sauce: Pour the oil into a non-stick pan. Over low heat, warm the oil. Add the ‘Nduja, and stir it into the oil until smooth, for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce and stir until blended. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their juice and the dried oregano and stir until blended. Partially cover the pan, and simmer the sauce until thickened and very fragrant, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cooked cannellini beans and heat through. (Do not add the cooked cannellini beans before this point or they become mushy.) Taste and season with salt if needed. Remove from the heat. At this point, the sauce may be cooled down, covered, and refrigerated up to 2 days. Or proceed.
2. Broccoli Rabe Strascinata: Broccoli rabe needs to be seasoned before pairing it with this assertive tomato sauce, so the strascinata method works very well. Broccoli rabe is cooked twice for the strascinata method, as follows:
The First Cooking: Either steam or boil the broccoli rabe in lightly salted water. Undercook it so it remains slightly firm showing a little resistance when pierced with a fork, and retains a bright green color. Remove from the heat. Immediately run cold water over the rabe to stop all cooking. Drain but do not completely dry. Coarsely chop. At this point, the broccoli rabe may be cooled down, covered, and set aside for a few hours. Or proceed.
The Second Cooking: If the cooked broccoli rabe becomes dry with no water clinging to its surface, briefly run water over it and drain. It needs to be coated with a thin layer of water because water prevents the rabe from absorbing too much oil during the second cooking.
In a non-stick pan, warm the oil and garlic over low heat for several seconds until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Increase the heat to high. Add the chopped cooked broccoli rabe and season to taste with salt and ground cayenne pepper. Stir until the broccoli rabe is coated with the oil and glistens, and it is hot to the touch, for 2 to 3 minutes. (If adding grated cheese, add it now, toss well. ) Remove from the heat and reserve. Discard the garlic cloves.
3. Serving the Cavatelli: There are three choices for serving Broccoli Rabe Strascinata: either stir it into the finished tomato sauce, or top the finished pasta, or serve it along side the finished pasta.
Boiling the Cavatelli: In a deep pot, bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking together. While the pasta is boiling, scoop out 1 cup (235 ml) cooking water and reserve. Boil the pasta until firm al dente, because it continues to cook when combined with the sauce.
When the pasta is almost finished boiling, warm the 'Nduja Tomato Sauce over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the heat to high. Drain the pasta leaving a little water clinging to it, and immediately add to the simmering sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce. *Add the broccoli rabe strascinata now if mixing into the tomato sauce. Add some reserved cooking water as needed to moisten the pasta and sauce. Do not add the full cup unless necessary. When the sauce lightly coats the pasta making it glisten, after cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, plate the pasta and broccoli rabe. Lightly sprinkle aged grated cheese over the top, then toasted breadcrumbs over and serve immediately. Enjoy!