This post is the first in a mini-series about my (Italian) grandma’s food. There are a few dishes I make that are distinctly hers, food that tastes great and, for me, brings me back to her apartment: yellow flowered wallpaper, round formica kitchen table, avocado green appliances, and, of course, my gram. She was a cutie and a great cook!
Broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) was my grandma’s second-favorite green (after escarole, which I’ll make for a later post). This is a dark, bitter green that for some people is an acquired taste, especially if you haven’t grown up eating it, as I did (and even as a kid it took some time before I came around). When I first made this for David, he was definitely not a fan; now, we eat this together at least once a week, sometimes more. Broccoli rabe isn’t in season in NY right now, but it’s available shipped from California in most supermarkets year round. The supermarket greens are very consistent – the bunches always look exactly the same – with green flowering buds that look like broccoli florets, and short, often almost pale green leaves. When this is in season during the summer and into autumn, if you can, get it from the farmers markets: the leaves will be larger and greener with fewer green flowering buds (but sometimes more actual little yellow flowers, which you can eat) and will, in general, taste more like the earth, which is what you want.
Broccoli rabe (one supermarket bunch is good for two people, a market bunch usually 2-3)
Garlic cloves, smashed or roughly chopped (I prefer larger pieces – the edges will get crisp and brown and the centers soft and sticky)
Red pepper flakes
Pignolis (pine nuts): optional
Saute the garlic (and pignolis if using) in olive oil with salt to taste and a shake or two of red pepper flakes (I like it on the spicy side). When the garlic is nicely browned, remove it from the olive oil and set aside (if you keep it in the pan while the greens cook it will get mushy and watery, and you want it crisp). Saute the greens until tender but not super wilted (unless you prefer them that way). You might need to add a bit more olive oil. Once the greens are lightly coated in olive oil, cover the pan with a lid so that they steam up without burning, tossing them periodically. Take off cover toward the end to release the steam, which will let the greens dry out a tiny bit, otherwise they will be too mushy. Remove to a bowl and top with the crisp garlic/pignolis.
We most often eat this with pasta (usually with a simple garlic and olive oil dressing), but there are so many possibilities: with sausage and ricotta cheese on bread; with rice; baked with a sharp Italian cheese (saute as per the recipe above, then bake in a casserole dish with cheese and toasted bread crumbs); as a sandwich green. Tonight I had it with warm Italian bread and an over-easy egg, topped with a little grated Parmesan and black pepper. David ate his with an Italian sandwich from today’s lunch at Alice’s Arbor.