As we wait for the beginning signs of Spring, the farmers market still provides a bounty of tasty, late season winter greens. It is worthwhile to enjoy them while they are lush and robust. Let’s not lose sight of their benefit to our health either. They are especially impactful in cognitive function and, I don’t know about you, but I was feeling a little of the winter fuzzies. Some bright green veggies are bound to help.
As discussed in an earlier blog on collard greens, I am a fan of veggies. I have a special affection for bitter flavors and broccoli raab, aka rapini, is at the very top of my favorite greens list. Raab, while a brassica, is a closer relative to turnips and mustard greens than it is to broccoli. Raab came to us from the Mediterranean and has, to some palates, an impossibly bitter flavor. If broccoli puts you off, raab probably won’t become a favorite.
It is a natural human reaction to be displeased by bitter flavors. Our palates are particularly tuned to detect bitterness for good reason. Many poisons are bitter and it is no doubt a built in human response to question bitter flavors. Bitter is a double edged sword, however. We have discovered that many bitter foods contain compounds that protect us and have positive health influences. From the standpoint of cuisine, bitter provides that delectable balance that adds depth and complexity to our cooking.
In terms of balancing bitter flavors, fat is your friend. Serve strong flavored greens with sausage or confit and lots of excellent quality extra virgin olive oil. One of my favorite dishes is pasta with sausage, clams and broccoli raab. In January, I couldn’t get enough of the McEvoy Ranch Olio Nuovo with broccoli raab. Alas, the Olio Nuovo is gone for another year but the new 2018 McEvoy Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil is brilliant.
There is a distinguished and elegant book titled “Bitter” written by Jennifer McLagan. The book is full of creative recipes, a thorough background on bitter flavors in cuisine and nutrition and stunning photography. She has provided a simple recipe for braised rapini which I will share with you.
Braised Rapini with Garlic and Chile
Serves 2 or 3
1 bunch rapini, about 17 -1/2 ounces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil - (McEvoy Ranch Traditional Blend)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 serrano chile or a large pinch of chile flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim the rapini stems at the base; I usually cut off about 1 inch or so. Drop the rapini into a sink of cold water and swoosh it around. Pull out pieces, cut off the thicker stems and toss the leaves and florets into a colander. Slice the stems into ½ inch pieces.
In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and the whole chile. Lower the heat and cook gently, stirring from time to time. As soon as the garlic begins to color, add the rapini stems and season with salt. Cook stirring, until they render their liquid, about 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the rapini and the chile flakes, if using. Stir until the rapini begins to wilt, then cover and cook over low heat until the rapini is soft, about 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and remove the whole chile before serving.
This basic method of cooking raab can be turned into a sauce for pasta. You can add clams and/or sausage for a pasta sauce or just to enjoy on its own. A big drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon completes the dish perfectly. We might want to add a healthy grating of Parmesan - just in case!