Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe Pesto

I’ve found that broccoli rabe has its detractors.  But it goes so well with garlic, and garlic is surely from the gods.

I suppose it’s the bitterness.  The American palate is generally not much accustomed to bitter, but we are making headway.  Some of us have begun to drink our coffee less scalding hot, and rejoiced to discover that it had a flavor.  American I.P.A.s are defined by the bitterness imparted by hops, grown in the Northwest, that beermakers are so proud of.

But Italians have always loved bitter–in their apertivos, their digestivos, and in their greens.  We should follow their lead.  If the bitter is in balance, it can be quite satisfying.  Your traditional rabe, sauteed in garlic and chili flake is such an example.  The pungent, slightly sweet garlic, and the fire of the chili make sure the bitterness of the greens do not overwhelm.

This dish is a simple pesto–though not the pine nut and basil we know so well from Genoa.  It is made with broccoli rabe and almonds, in a course puree.

Pesto is often made with almonds in Sicily, as well as my kitchen, because nowadays it seems only Mitt Romney can afford pine nuts.

Mise en Place


  • pasta pot
  • spider or tongs
  • large bowl
  • ice
  • food processor or blender
  • colander
  • large skillet


  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 1 tbs baking soda
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup sliced almond
  • chili  flake, to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 1 tbs butter

1) Blanch the greens.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the baking soda. Slice the thick stalks from the bottom of the greens, before plunging in the boiling water.  Remove the greens with a spider, and transfer to a large bowl of ice water, after a few minutes when the broccoli rabe turns bright green.

2) Make the pesto, as the water returns to a boil.  In a food processor, pulse the greens, garlic, cheese, almonds and chili flake.  Slowly add the olive oil until a course puree is formed.  Salt to taste.

3)  Compose the pasta.  Boil the pasta, in well-salted water, to just short of al dente.  As the pasta boils, add the pesto and one ladleful of pasta water to a large skillet over high heat.  If the water reduces too much add more pasta water.  When the pasta is just short of al dente, drain through a colander and add to the skillet, tossing to coat the pasta with the pesto.  Take off the heat and add a 1/2 cup additional cheese and the butter.  Toss until the sauce emulsifies and coats the pasta.  Transfer to serving dishes, and finish with sliced almonds and additional cheese.

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One thought on “Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe Pesto

  1. Loved it! You’re so right about the bitter taste of broccoli rabe, or rapini as we call it. I make a rapini pesto with tiny-dice sun dried tomatoes too. Your recipe here is wonderful.

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