- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

When food lovers I know talk to me about their desire to eat more healthily during the winter months, one thing I hear them say most often is that they want to try to cook more vegetarian main courses. The next words out of their mouths usually have something to do with worrying that a main course of vegetables won’t satisfy them.

I have a few suggestions that, together, add up to one of the most satisfying vegetable main courses you could imagine.

The first key to satisfaction is to choose a main course vegetable that has a lot of flavor. If you start with a blander tasting vegetable like zucchini, for instance, your taste buds are more likely to get bored quickly. One of the best choices available right now is a vegetable variously known as broccoli raab or rapini. I like this robust, slightly spicy, very slightly bitter green vegetable so much more than its familiar cousin, broccoli. (Though broccoli has good flavor, too, especially if you peel the tough-but-flavorful broccoli stems and include them with the more popular florets in any recipe.)

Look for broccoli raab, which looks like long, skinny stalks of broccoli, in farmers’ markets and well-stocked supermarket produce sections. Be sure to use the whole vegetable, stalks and all. If you can’t find broccoli raab, feel free to substitute another flavorful green vegetable such as asparagus in the recipe that follows.

The next step is to include in your vegetable dish a touch of richness. I like the way the rich, tangy flavor of fresh, creamy goat cheese complements broccoli raab. Nowadays, you can find small logs of this cheese in the dairy case of most supermarkets.

I also add seasonings that highlight both the broccoli raab and the goat cheese. Chopped garlic cloves, a little or a lot according to your tastes, are a must. I also like to include a few crushed red chili flakes for a tantalizing hint of heat. And I’m fond of adding strips of sun-dried tomatoes for their beautiful color and intense tart-sweet flavor. If you want to include them, always buy the sort packed in olive oil, which have a softer consistency and better flavor than dry-packed, sun-dried tomatoes. You can also use their olive oil as a wonderful, flavorful addition to cooked vegetables, sauces or salad dressings.

The final secret is pasta, one of the world’s most wonderful flavor carriers and an easily prepared, inexpensive and satisfying staple. For this particular recipe, commonly available bite-sized dried shapes such as bowties or orecchiette do a great job of carrying the sauce and the other ingredients.

There you have it: A vegetable main course that will satisfy anybody who sits down to your dinner table.

PASTA WITH BROCCOLI RAAB, GOAT CHEESE, SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, AND TOASTED PINE NUTS

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups broccoli raab cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch (2.5- to 3.5-cm) pieces

2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) good quality canned chicken broth

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4 ounces (125 g) fresh, creamy goat cheese, crumbled

3/4 pound dried bowtie or orecchiette pasta

4 tablespoons thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in a small skillet over low heat until golden, 3 to 4 minutes

Bring a large stockpot water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch (30-cm) saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli raab, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute, stirring frequently, until bright green and tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper and then transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Still over medium-high heat, add the chicken broth to the pan and stir and scrape to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the thyme. Bring the liquid to a boil and continue boiling briskly until it reduces to half its original volume, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the goat cheese and butter and stir until the goat cheese melts. Cover and keep warm.

As soon as the stockpot of water comes to a full boil, add a little salt to the water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, tender but still chewy, following the manufacturer’s suggested cooking time.

Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan of sauce along with the broccoli raab and the sun-dried tomatoes. Cook, stirring gently, over medium-low heat until all the ingredients are heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the pasta among 4 heated serving plates or shallow pasta bowls. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve immediately.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network.)

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