Published November 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
To fine-tune this classic combination, we first needed to tame broccoli rabe’s bitter edge.
This dish takes finesse to work properly—and it’s the broccoli rabe that requires the most attention. Most recipes agree that rabe requires pretreatment to tame its bitter edge, but they differ in their solutions.
We wanted to determine the best pretreatment of broccoli rabe and then use it to make one of our standard weeknight pasta recipes even easier to prepare.
Our research revealed a variety of cooking techniques for the rabe’s pretreatment—and we tried them all. Each produced remarkably different results, and tasters preferred the tender-firm bite of the greens that had been simply sautéed. But sautéing did little to mellow their intensely bitter flavor.
For that, we needed a water-based pretreatment, which is the only kind that softens the vegetable’s sharp edge. With this in mind, we added a splash of water to the skillet as we sautéed the rabe. This mellowed its bitterness and also preserved the appealing crispness.
But once we decided to cut the rabe into small pieces (which tasters preferred), it reintroduced its bitterness. We shouldn’t have been surprised: The more the vegetable is broken down, the more of its bitter compounds are released. To counter this, we tweaked the ingredients in the sauce. We added a ladle full of the pasta cooking water and some chicken broth to the pan (the starchy liquid lends body to the sauce and helps it cling to the pasta) and reduced it. This gave the sauce more depth, which only improved with the inclusion of some Parmesan. One last addition—a paste of anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and olive oil—was the final measure needed to make for a sauce that could temper the rabe’s sharpness.list of recipes