Thursday, August 15, 2013

Amicable Alimentations: Garden-fresh Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

The Rabe: Highly Bolted.
Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to post number one, number two, number three, and this, of course, is post number four in the series.

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We are getting ready to head NE for Matt's brother's wedding, and so I find myself nostalgic for many things I associate with Matt's family and New England summers: verdent forests, running on Dunkin' for a week straight, family time on the boat, early nights slurping oysters and clams at the local raw bar, and late-night drives on the causeway.  I've been a part of Matt's life in Connecticut for the better part of 10 years now, and I have a lot of fondness for his hometown and his family's traditions.

One of the first times I met Matt's family, we ate what I didn't realize was a staple of their diet: sauteed broccoli rabe.  A self-professed lover of broccoli, I was dumbfounded that I'd never even heard of it.  (Italian thing, for the record.)  Anyway, they told a story about some lady who used to say "I never liked broccoli rabe until I met the Ciardiellos."   Well, that lady is me now.  And this post is dedicated to Matt's family for having introduced me to what is now one of my favorite veggies.  (Which, also for the record, is a lot to say.)

The years in London were like a metaphorical culinary desert, for many reasons.  I never saw much in terms of unique or local "greens" in the grocery stores, despite, ironically, the English countryside being covered in fields of broccoli rabe, its yellow flowers in bloom, harvested for rapeseed oil only.  There is no culture of eating greens in the UK - not like in Italy and Greece.  Anyway, I was very pleased when we moved to Portland and discovered that every local grocery store carried broccoli rabe.  In withdrawal, we feasted for months, and, temporarily, the beast was sated.   Now, in Colorado, we're back to the famine: no broccoli rabe to be found!  I saw it once at King Soopers for a few days and then it was gone, never to be seen again.

lovely, bitter, and leafy
When spring hit, I resolved to grow my own, knowing nothing about how or when to do so.  The only picture I had in my head was that of a little garden in South England where Matt's great uncle had grown his own as well.  I figured if he could do it so could I.  One purchase of heirloom broccoli rabe seeds later, I was on my way.  These are the results.  a few precious stalks (and admittedly I waited too long to cut a few and they bolted and got a little woody, but I ate them anyway :)) sauteed in olive oil with fresh garlic and crushed red pepper.   Pretty close to a perfect summer lunch, in my book.

I was proud of the small but beautiful little crop I reaped.  And I'll be trying my hand at growing some more in the next few weeks as the climate here in Denver starts to cool.

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Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic
Serves 4, as a side-dish
Broccoli Rabe is a bitter green that grows best in cooler temps and partial shade.  It's not the best crop for hot Denver summers but might be good for Denver Springs and early Falls. :)

1 lb broccoli rabe, washed
2-3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed or sliced
crushed red pepper (pepperoncino)
olive oil
salt & pepper


1. Bring salted water to boil.  Add the broccoli rabe and cook for about 5 minutes (this step tones down the extreme natural bitterness), until tender and bright green.  Drain and shock in an ice bath or by pouring cold water over the colander until the broccoli is cooled and has stopped cooking.

2. In a sautee pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on medium high.  Add the garlic and crushed red pepper (to taste and optional).  Swirl the oil around so it gets flavored by the garlic and pepper flakes.  Do not allow the garlic to burn.   

3. Add the broccoli rabe to the hot pan and toss to coat in the olive oil, adding more oil if necessary.  Sautee for a few minutes, then salt and pepper.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.  Can be eaten hot or at room temperature.

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