I’m almost sure you are licking your lips because this shrimp, rapini and radicchio penne pesto pasta is calling out your name. That or you are reading this before lunch or dinner. Have you ever wandered into the market or the grocery store and noticed different types of vegetables and fruits from around the world. You look at them and think, wow they look different, I wonder what they are and how to cook or eat them. I know you are nodding your head because we have all done it. Don’t be shy to purchase new products just because you don’t know how to prepare them. Learn about them and give it a shot like we did. The best part is you don’t have to spend money in fancy restaurants to eat this food. With a little research and patience you too can have restaurant style quality meals in your home at a fraction of the cost. Like my mate Edward says, “If you can read, you can cook”!
I’ve actually had ladies stop me after looking inside my cart to ask me what something was and how I cook it (ok maybe it was a pick up line attempt, they do say the supermarket is a great place to find love) but I obliged and shared my keen love for rustic cooking not for grocery store dating as I’m happily married. I’m not a professional chef by any means but I do tend to cook using different ingredients from the produce department as we like to add a variety of vegetables into our healthy diet. Since we don’t tend to eat alot of meat in our house fish is a great alternative. We splurge once in a while and buy nice juicy shrimp, especially if they are on sale mainly around Christmas time or other holidays. You may even find the prices come down in the summer where most people start to have backyard BBQ parties and are firing up the grill. (Can you tell I’m hoping the snow leaves fast and so I can toast my sun-screened body a heavenly brown under the sunlight while picking weeds, gardening and mowing the lawn, beer in hand, you bet!)
Back to reality….
What is Rapini?
Rapini is a healthy vegetable known to many Europeans mainly used in Italian cooking although it has many names. According to Wikipedia, rappe, rappi, raap and raab and in Naples they call rapini friarielli and in Spain grelos. You might also hear the term rapini broccoli to describe this vegetable as it does have broccoli similarities. One thing I’ve always loved to do is educate myself on the different names used on products around the world. Since I have travelled to Spain and other European countries it makes sense to know what the names are. In the past I’ve even done research on-line before travelling so I know what foods may be part of a certain culture and how they are prepared. Maybe one day if we retire early we can travel the world to learn about different cultures and foods. Or I might have to keep dreaming that we will win the lottery one day.
Rapini is dark green in colour and in the mustard family. If you fancy sautéed turnip tops or greens (don’t waste these, they are great) you will enjoy eating rapini. Rapini in my opinion is very similar to a spinach in texture although the taste is very bitter. I once had this bright idea to save the water that I briefly wilted the rapini in to make a rapini soup, well that turned out to be a disaster as the taste was far too strong as it is so pungent. Let’s just say it took alot of help to bring the soup back to an edible state, lesson learned. The good thing is we can’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen, how else will we create our own signature dishes that the family will love. Other places that use rapini is China, Portugal but commonly used in Italy and China.
Cooking rapini is fairly easy as you either can boil it or steam it until the vegetable has wilted. If there is any other way, I’ve not done it. I haven’t come across many recipes for rapini although I’ve used it just like I would spinach in many of our meals. We like sautéed rapini in olive oil and lots of garlic and flavoured with salt. We’ve also mixed cooked rapini with boiled potatoes, in a Quiché, on a pizza and in a pasta frittata so I though why not toss it in with some penne pasta to see what magic I can create.
Where to Buy Rapini?
You can find rapini in almost every grocery store in the produce section all year-long. In the summer time you may find it in your local city or farmers markets at a reasonable price. We picked up bunches of rapini in October for around $0.88 a bunch. Keep in mind rapini is similar to spinach when you cook rapini where it wilts down to nothing. You may want to invest in buying about 3 good bunches if you want to make a couple of meals out of them. We actually are growing rapini in our garden and planted in October last year. The rapini plants were generously donated from a friend who grew it from seed. We planted the seedlings in the ground and are hoping that this summer we get an abundance of rapini in our favourite meals or as a simple side dish idea.
What is Radicchio?
Radicchio, a perennial is also known as an Italian chicory and can be used in many dishes. You know those red balls you pass over in the produce section that look like a small cabbage or a lettuce but you’re just not sure. The price can be over the top during certain times of the year but you can grow this in your garden with best crops in the Spring and Fall. This is not something we have tried to grow but maybe in the future. The more you water the radicchio the more bitter it will be and when it is colder out the flavour may mellow which you may prefer. The different varieties have been named after the Italian regions where they originated from. I first tried this when I had it in a restaurant as a braised radicchio and although I wasn’t sure at the time what I thought I grew to enjoy it over the years. We’ve also grilled radicchio as side dishes for our main meals or as a radicchio salad. You could also use radicchio if you are adventurous to make a radicchio risotto if you like rice.
There you go, some educational fun for this recipe so I hope you learned something new today and that you test out products in the produce section that you may not be familiar with. It might be a good change for the family to experience different flavours and textures.
Recipe: Shrimp, Rapini and Radicchio Penne Pesto Pasta
Time: This takes me about 45 minutes to make with the prep work but if it is your first time with these ingredients give yourself some time to get used to them. The more you work with certain products the faster you will get at preparing them. It also helps to have all your ingredients ready and in front of you BEFORE you start the cooking process along with the recipe.
- 1 bulb of radicchio
- 2 bunches of rapini
- 1 box of penne pasta
- 1 bulb of garlic minced (Pesto) 4 cloves minced (rapini)
- 2-3 cups fresh basil ( I eyeball it)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (PESTO)
- 1/2 cup of cream
- 1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined
- 1/ cup freshly grated Parmigiano regianno
- 1 teaspoon salt (pasta water)
- 1/2 cup pasta water for sauce
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Get a large pot of salted water boiling ready for the penne pasta
- In a food processor add your fresh basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and blend adding the extra virgin olive oil in a stream through the top to combine and to make a pesto paste (taste to see if you need more salt or not)-We use Basil cubes that we make in the summer and freeze to use over the winter months.
- Rinse your rapini and chop it into pieces, remember it will wilt but you don’t want long pieces.
- In a pot of boiling water add your rapini until it is soft and wilted or you can steam it but it will take a bit longer. You don’t have to boil it until it’s mush just to wilt it and soften the stalk or it will be tough and not appetizing.
- Drain the rapini, squeeze all the water out of it.
- Cut your radicchio into long thin slices
- In a large frying pan add 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic and the radicchio and sauté until the radicchio starts to soften and then add in the rapini. Toss in the shrimps and mix until they are cooked which shouldn’t take long at all, minutes. Add a sprinkle of salt for taste keeping in mind the bitterness. Keep on med-low with the lid on until the pasta is near done.
- Get your pasta cooking in the water (reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining pasta)
- Once the pasta is near done Al dente you can add in your cream to your frying pan, 1/2 cup hot pasta water as well as your pesto and mix to combine. I wait until the pasta is almost done cooking to finish up the sauce.
- Drain your pasta and add it to the sauce in the frying pan and mix
- Add pasta to your plates and top with fresh grated Parmigiano regianno cheese
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