Thirty Minute Thursdays: Broccoli Rabe & Ricotta Penne

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love ricotta cheese, and those who hate it. It seems to be one of those polarizing foods, and there’s really no getting around it. If you love it, lasagna and stuffed shells aren’t the same without it. If you hate it, there’s no method of preparation that will make it palatable. My family comes from the second camp, and somehow, my body synthesized the ricotta-loving gene out of thin air.

At least, that’s what I thought, anyway.

I never eat homemade meals with ricotta in it, because my family doesn’t like it. This means I’ve never bought ricotta before. I only ever eat it at restaurants or in some other sort of prepared dish. I decided to treat myself and buy a container recently – some would go into a pasta dish, this pasta dish that I’m about to share with you, and the rest I would experiment with. I chose part-skim because I wanted something a little leaner than whole milk ricotta, and a little less…artificial, shall we say? Than the chemical-laden nonfat variety. Ever since cracking into this tub of part-skim, though, I’m starting to think that either I’m not really a die-hard ricotta fan – just another poser enthusiast - or I’m such a ricotta purist that only the fresh, full-fat kind will suffice. Sigh.

If you can spare the calories, I would recommend making this dish (or any other in which ricotta plays a pretty prominent role) with the best quality, least processed kind you can get your hands on. This means, I think, more fat. The flavor and texture will really take the meal to a new level. Still, even with part-skim you can get decent results.

I swapped the plain chicken with lean chicken sausage, fresh thyme with dried, and broccolini with broccoli rabe. To be honest, it was missing something – a sprinkling of mozzarella, a dash of sugar, some small addition to heighten the flavors already in the pasta. The higher fat ricotta (or maybe the addition of a few tablespoons of creamy, plain greek yogurt instead) might do the trick, too. Even so, it’s an easy and different recipe, so I enjoyed it, and hope you do, too!

Ricotta & Broccoli Rabe Pasta, adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 4-6 servings

The Ingredients
1 pound penne
2 heads broccoli rabe tops, chopped
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 lean chicken sausage links, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
couple pinches of ground nutmeg

The Method
Start a pot of water to boil for the pasta, adding in the penne once the water reaches a boil. Cook until al dente and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water before draining the rest.

Meanwhile, simmer the broccoli rabe in a cup of fresh water in a small saucepan for at least 10 minutes to extract some of the bitterness. Drain well and set aside.

In a large, deep skillet set over medium heat, add the olive oil, chicken sausage, and garlic. Cook to brown the sausage, turning occasionally, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the broccoli rabe, pasta, ricotta, and the reserved pasta water. Season with thyme and nutmeg, and any salt and pepper, to taste, if desired. Toss the mixture until it reaches a creamy consistency. 


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