A pizza was the vehicle, and the food item in question was broccoli rabe. Broccoli rabe or Brassica Rapa a member of the Brassicaceae tribe of vegetables, relative to mustard, turnip, broccoli, and cabbage, is a bitter green vegetable that requires a little skill to tame. Back in the early dating days of our relationship, we would have a weekly "pizza night" dinner together. I showed up with a pie topped with broccoli rabe and I remember the look on her face like... "What's that and do you expect me to eat it?" It took just that one pie to make it her favorite pizza topping and vegetable.
Luckily for us it is a vegetable that has three peak seasons, early spring, fall, and winter. It is also a vegetable that is perfect for this time of year as it lends itself very well to soul warming comfort foods.
By itself, it is fairly simple to prepare. It requires a few other ingredients to bring out the tastier side of it's bitter nature.
For one bunch of broccoli rabe you'll also need:
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thin
-Kosher or fine sea salt
-Crushed red pepper flakes
Trim the hard and split ends from the stalks and cut them into 2” pieces. Soak them in clean, cold water to remove any dirt or foreign matter. Drain well in a colander. Meanwhile heat 3 ounces of EVOO in a deep saute pan (preferably one with a lid), add the sliced garlic, a pinch of salt, and a healthy pinch of pepper flakes. Saute' the garlic over a low heat until it turns golden and add the broccoli rabe. Cover the pan and turn the flame up to high. Shake or stir the vegetable occassionaly and continue to cook until the pieces of stalk are very tender. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. You should just taste all the components: EVOO, garlic, pepper, and salt. It is this harmony that makes the bitterness of the broccoli rabe delicious. It also makes it the ultimate companion for the rich meatiness of sausage.
I prepare this pasta dish many times throughout the colder months. It is a composition of gemelli pasta, sausage, white kidney beans, and broccoli rabe. Although the beans with the pasta may seem redundant, it adds another element of texture and flavor to the dish.
Gemelli Pasta with Sausage, Canellini, and Broccoli Rabe
-1 lb of pork or chicken rope
Cook the sausage in a covered deep saute pan with a little EVOO until done and well browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Prepare 1 bunch of broccoli rabe as directed above in the same pan the sausage cooked in. Meanwhile, bring 4 qts of salted water to a boil in a separate pot. When the water boils, cook 1 lb of gemelli pasta al dente, approximately 6 mins, reserve 2 cups of pasta water, and drain.
Cut the sausage into 1” pieces and add them to the pan.
Open a can of canellini beans, rinse them and drain well. Add them to the pan. Add the drained pasta. Add half of the reserved pasta water.
Bring the pan to a simmer and reduce the sauce until it begins to thicken slightly. Check for seasoning adding salt or more olive oil if necessary. Serve with grated Reggiano Parmigiano cheese.
My knee jerk reaction wine choice here would be Chianti, but after a little thought and a desire for something a little off the beaten path I chose a red from the Lazio region in central Italy. Cantine Volpetti Campo Alle Rose Cesanese Del Piglio 2008 is as big a mouthful of wine, as it is to say. It melds medium acidity, bright red fruit, and soft tannins to compliment this dish so fine.
If all this seems too much work and you're not even sure you'd like broccoli rabe, do what I did... order a pizza!