This rapini pasta recipe features garlicky broccoli rabe, orecchiette, lemon zest, and Pecorino Romano cheese. It’s easy to make, vegetarian but customizable, and a delicious Italian-inspired meal!
I don’t think I’ve met a single person who doesn’t love Italian food! I mean…who can resist pasta?! It’s always satisfying, and there are so many things you can do with it. (See my Meatless Baked Ziti, Ricotta Pumpkin Stuffed Shells, and Vegetarian Pesto Pasta for examples).
After pasta with tomato sauce (preferably, my homemade gravy), my next favorite pasta dish is orecchiette with broccoli rabe! With a vibrant green color and slightly bitter flavor that pairs perfectly with garlic, broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) is an amazing vegetable that totally deserves some more credit.
If you’ve never cooked with it, you have to try this homemade rapini pasta! It’s very easy to make and full of delicious flavor from fresh lemon and grated cheese. You only need a handful of ingredients, many of which you probably have on hand. Go on and check your pantry. It’s time to give yourself a little taste of Italy.
- Rapini (broccoli rabe): This is not actually a type of broccoli but instead a relative of the turnip family. I don’t recommend substituting other types of broccoli for rapini, since it has a unique, bitter taste. See my Sautéed Rapini for more information about this vegetable.
- Orecchiette: This type of pasta looks like little suction cups and is usually paired with broccoli rabe at Italian restaurants. If you can’t find orecchiette, sub penne, farfalle (bowtie), or fusilli.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic is the best choice for making rapini pasta. Don’t be shy with how much you add!
- Extra virgin olive oil: I always recommend using a good quality olive oil for Italian-inspired recipes, specifically one labeled as extra virgin that’s from Italy. I use Sicilian olive oil that’s stored in a metal tin. My favorite brand is Partanna.
- Lemon: Fresh lemon zest brightens up the dish.
- Pecorino Romano cheese: I use Locatelli brand and buy it pre-grated. If you don’t have Pecorino Romano, you can substitute grated aged parmesan.
The full recipe card for rapini pasta, which includes ingredient quantities, is at the bottom of the post.
Prepare the broccoli rabe for cooking. Wash it under cold running water to remove any dirt, then pat dry. Cut into 2-inch pieces, including the leaves.
Blanch the broccoli rabe in a large pot of boiling water for 60 to 90 seconds.
Cook orecchiette until al dente then drain, reserving some pasta water.
Cook the blanched broccoli rabe in a skillet with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the broccoli rabe. Pour in some pasta water and add the lemon zest and grated cheese to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cheese coats the pasta, adding more water as needed.
Rapini pasta is delicious as is, but you can add other ingredients if desired. Here are some ideas.
- Hot or mild Italian sausage
- White beans
- Fresh parsley
- Roasted red peppers
Storage and Reheating
This dish is best served right away, but you can keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. If the pasta gets dry, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and/or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.
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Lemon Rapini Pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Prepare the broccoli rabe. Wash under cold running water to remove any dirt, then pat dry. Cut into 2-inch pieces (including the leaves). When the water is boiling, transfer the broccoli rabe to the pot. Blanch for 60 seconds and drain immediately. Do not blanch the broccoli rabe for too long or it will get mushy.
- Use the same pot to bring another pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain when finished cooking but **reserve ½ to 1 cup of pasta water before draining**.
- Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Stir in the red pepper flakes and blanched broccoli rabe. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with ¼ cup of pasta water, the lemon zest, and grated cheese. Cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes until the cheese becomes a thin sauce that coats the pasta. You will likely need to add about another ¼ cup of pasta water to thin the sauce, but it's up to you. Remove from heat.
- Serve with additional grated cheese if desired. Enjoy!
- Leave a rating or review by tapping the stars on this recipe card (above) or in the comments section (at the end of the post)!
- Possible additions include Italian sausage, white beans, tomatoes, fresh parsley, or breadcrumbs.
- Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. Add some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice if the pasta gets dry.
Happy cooking! – Lizzie