The first change I made was a complete accident. I was at the farmers market and confused broccolini with the rapini in the original recipe. Happily, these vegetables are close cousins, if not in genetics, at least in flavor, texture, and how they're cooked. Other green vegetables and leafy greens would do equally well in this recipe: ribbons of kale or chard, shaved brussel sprouts, even little florets of actual broccoli.
I wanted a little more of a flavor base to my pasta dish, so I started off the sauce with one minced onion and a few cloves of minced garlic. I sautéed these in olive oil until they softened and then added the broccolini right to the pan. The original recipe has you blanch the greens in boiling water, but this method gives the broccolini a little roasted flavor from contact with the pan. After a minute or two, I put the lid on the pan to let the greens steam to doneness.
One last change: instead of vegetable stock (which I was out of, alas!), I scooped out a little bit of the starchy water leftover from cooking the orecchiette. I've been playing with porcini powder recently and so I added a teaspoon of that to 1/2 cup of the pasta water. This is a deeply savory and aromatic seasoning made from grinding dried porcini mushrooms, and a little of it adds instant depth of flavor to dishes like this.
When the broccolini was cooked, I stirred in the porcini-fortified pasta water, the orecchiete, lemon zest and juice, and a cup of Good Mother Stallard beans (one of my favorite beans from Rancho Gordo with a rich flavor and creamy texture). I sprinkled some cheese on top and dinner was served.
The main components of this simple dish are the greens, the pasta, and the beans. Any one these can really be swapped for another of its kind: broccolini for rapini, rigatoni for orecchiette, Good Mother Stallard beans for the canellini. Other ingredients, like garlic or porcini powder, can be added to give the dish more depth or vary the flavor. There's lots of room to play while the essence of the dish stays the same.
• Get the Original Recipe! Rapini with Orecchiette and White Beans
How would you change the flavors and ingredients of this dish?
(Image: Emma Christensen)