The Italians name this pasta shape after the cute little ears of a pig: orecchiette. If you can't find these little shell shapes, penne or rotini are a good substitute. Rapini is a slightly bitter vegetable that is softened by the starchy beans and pasta. Florets, leaves and stems are all edible. Just trim the stem ends. (Broccoli is a good substitute if you can't find it.)
375 g orecchiette, penne or rotini
250 g rapini, sliced into 1-in. pieces
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
125 g pancetta, or side bacon, chopped
1 540-mL can white kidney beans, romano beans or navy beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups home-cooked)
1 tsp hot-pepper flakes
1 3/4 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, adding rapini during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/2 cup (125 mL) pasta cooking water.
In a large frying pan on medium high, heat oil, add garlic and pancetta, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until pancetta is crispy. Drain off and discard fat. In a blender, combine reserved pasta water with 1/2 cup (125 mL) of beans, and blend until smooth. Add pureed beans, remaining whole beans, red pepper flakes, tomatoes and parsley to the pan.
Bring sauce to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add drained pasta and rapini to the sauce, heat through and serve, sprinkled with Parmesan.