I know there have been several recipes floating around lately that include some combination of bitter greens and/or dried beans and pasta, but I thought I'd put this one up, too, as I found it super satisfying with a great mix (balance) of flavors: bitter greens/smokey bacon/salty Parm/hot pepper flakes/sweet pasta.
I hate to sound like Ina ("Use the good stuff") but I have to say that a dish made with such simple, basic elements really will be all the better for great ingredients.
There was no broccoli rabe at the market yesterday, so I bought a bunch of Chinese broccoli and a bunch of Russian kale (sheesh! don't tell HUAC!) even though they're pretty different greens -- what can I say, I was in the "shop from the market" mode -- and it worked out great!
I would not attempt to make this vegetarian unless I had a great source of smokey umami flavor, FWIW.
Pasta with Beans, Broccoli Rabe, and Bacon
From "The Rancho Gordo Cookbook" by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington
Here's an easy recipe that you can quickly assemble anytime you have a cup of cooked white beans and a few odds and ends in your refrigerator. You can substitute chard or kale for the broccoli rabe or use cabbage or regular broccoli. Among other options, you can leave out the fennel or use leeks instead or omit the bacon or use sausage instead.
3 slices high-quality bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick strips
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 bunches broccoli rabe, tough stems trimmed, and chopped (about 2 cups)
1 cup drained, cooked runner cannellini, cellini, or marrow beans, with reserved broth
1/2 pound short tubular pasta such as penne, rigatoni, or gemelli
1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously.
In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is brown and beginning to crisp, 8-10 minutes. Usine a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off most of the fat from the pan, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and warm over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and fennel until vegetables are soft and wilted, about 10 minutes.
Add the broccoli rabe and sauté until coated and beginning to wilt. Add a splash of the reserved bean broth and cook, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli rabe is tender and wilted, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.
When the broccoli rabe is cooked, add the pasta, beans, reserved bacon, and more bean broth if the mixture seems dry. Add the red pepper flakes (if using) and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well.
Remove from the heat and add the bread crumbs and the 1/4 cup Parmesan. Toss and serve in warmed bowls. Top each serving with a drizzle of olive oil, more Parmesan, and freshly ground pepper.