Pasta with Broccoli Rabe Pesto and Clams


Every time Edward comes back from a trip to Italy he has at least one new recipe that he’s all excited about. Part of his circuit includes a stay at the apartment he shares with my sister Lisa in San Benedetto del Tronto, a middle class beach resort on the Adriatic, at the end of the old Via Salaria. Dad’s people come from the hill towns further inland: quiet, stony Offida, famous for its lace makers, the farming communities of Monsampolo, Monteprandone, and Centobuchi, named 100 holes because once upon a time, the locals sold salt from ditches beside the Via Salaria. (I wrote about the region, Le Marche, in Saveur many years ago.) They love going to Ondamarina on the beach: a fantastic fish restaurant where I first tasted what the locals called Sorbetto, but was actually lemon sorbet combined with Asti spumante and/or vodka and drunk from a small, frosty glass after lunch (the recipe is in The Kitchen Ecosystem, though I am sure you can figure it out). This time, it was pasta in broccoli rabe pesto, garnished with a variety of shellfish: razor clams, tiny vongele, and little shrimps with the heads on.

Usually Edward tests a recipe and then I try it again but this time we both plunged in. I made a straight pesto and tossed the cooked pasta in it. Ed made a very loose pesto and finished cooking partially boiled pasta in it. I tried it with cheese and don’t recommend it: The pesto is intense but delicate and I found the Parmesan too assertive and salty. I haven’t tried Ed’s version yet, but the one I did, below, is divine.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe Pesto and Clams
Serves 4

2 bunches rabe with lots of flowers
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 small dried hot pepper, or a pinch of hot pepper flakes
1/3 cup pinoli nuts
¾ pound of penne, farfale, or other small cut pasta
1 ½ cups clams with their broth, cut into small bite-sized pieces

To prepare the rabe, cut off the tough stems or peel them. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over a high heat. Add the rabe and as soon as the water comes back to a boil, drain it. Retain 1 – 2 cups of the blanching water.

In a large skillet heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high heat. Add the garlic and hot pepper. As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle but before it begins to turn golden, add the rabe. Stir to combine the garlic with the vegetables. Add ½ cup of blanching stock, cover, and lower the heat to medium, Cook the rabe for about 10 minutes, until it is very tender.

Select out all the flowers as set aside. Remove the hot pepper and discard. Add the remaining stems and leaves to a food processor along with ½ cup of the blanching water, the pinoli nuts, and salt to taste. Pulse to a smooth puree. Add more blanch water if necessary. The consistency should be like to heavy cream.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over a high heat and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, and then drain.

In the meantime, turn on the heat under the skillet that still has the rabe flowers in it to medium. As soon as the pan is hot add the clams and their broth. Cook briefly, until the clams become opaque.

In a large serving bowl toss together the hot pasta and rabe pesto. Adjust the seasoning. Garnish with the rabe flowers and clams.



3 Comments on “Pasta with Broccoli Rabe Pesto and Clams

  1. Ciao Eugenia,
    Enjoyed reading this post, as the broccoli rape’ pesto with the razor clams, small vongole,and tiny shrimp seems like a good combination sauced over pasta.
    I have been preparing broccoli rape’ pesto for several years now, ever since reading about it in one of Faith Willinger’s books. My approach is slightly different, which I would like to share with you here, however after reading yours and your father’s, I may tweak mine just a bit.
    The softened rough stems are the main ingredient forming the base of the pesto, however unlike yours I rough chop the leaves and use those along with the florets in the pasta dish. I will now try using some of the leaves in the pesto as well.
    In my version I use toasted walnuts instead of pine nuts as I feel they lend more robust flavor to this strong pesto option as compared to the classic Genovese version using basil and pine nuts.
    I tame some of the assertiveness of the raw garlic by using two house made pantry staples in my kitchen, garlic jam and preserved lemon.
    Like your father, I finish the pasta in a large saute pan, adding the greens, the pesto and some of the pasta water to make a nicely emulsified sauce. If I am using cheese, either one of the many aged pecorino varieties or ricotta salata would be my choice, however with the seafood variation you have described I might opt for a little toasted bread crumbs instead, and a drizzle of spicy Calabrian pepper oil. I will certainly give this seafood variation a try. Thanks for the recipe.

    • DM, this recipe sounds divine! I am going to try yours. How do you make the garlic jam?

      • Dear Eugenia,
        So sorry it has taken me this long to reply. It just so happens that I was navigating around your website and noticed that you replied to my October 29th post, however it didn’t come to me by way of an e-mail. Be that as it may here is how I prepare garlic jam: Like most recipes, this is an adaptation of a recipe I read many years ago in the NYT and evolved it to what I use to this day. I approach the garlic preparation in two ways, poaching the greater amount of the cloves in olive oil as you would a confit. The remainder are roasted until very tender, and it is these cloves which add the depth of flavor and richness to the jam. Once cooled the garlic is drained from the oil and added to the work bowl of my food processor along with a quarter or half a preserved lemon (including the pulp, and minus the seeds), minced parsley, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Add the poaching oil thru the feed tube as you process the ingredients into a smooth jam like paste.
        My proportions are not exact, as they are generally based upon how much garlic I start with. More oil can be added, however you don’t want the jam to be too thin. The seasoning is to taste, as it should be. I store the garlic jam in re-purposed jars in the freezer topped with a 1/4 inch or so of olive oil virtually indefinitely to be used in all sorts of ways as one of my pantry staples. Let me know if you try making a batch and perhaps we can compare notes on different ways to use this useful condiment. Enjoy.
        Best regards,

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