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Flowering Brassicas

This is a repost from a few years ago, but Spring is in the air and rabes once again dominate our farmer's market. Time for a refresher... and some good pasta!

Our farmer’s market has been well-stocked with a spring treat we have never encountered before: flowering tops from over-wintering brassicas.


Clockwise from top left: red ball cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, lacinato kale

Of course, we know and love broccoli and cauliflower, but the entire brassica family—including turnips, mustards, cabbages, kale, and collards—have “broccoli” of their own (the word broccoli actually comes from the Italian word for “shoots”). Broccoli rabe is, in fact, a type of turnip, hence it’s tendency toward bitterness. Kale and cabbage “broccoli” are milder and make for a delightful sauté when accompanied with a healthy dose of garlic. In an attempt to avoid confusion, these types of broccoli are often sold as “kale rapini,” “Brussels sprout rapini,” etc. (rapini is another word for broccoli rabe). We understand the need to avoid confusion, and repeat the convention here… the trickster who named broccoli broccoli ruined things for everybody. Ho-hum.

Despite the convoluted nomenclature, these flowering beauties are worth picking up. Sauté them to accompany seared fish steaks, toss with pasta for a light supper, or anything else you might be tempted to do with broccoli rabe. Our favorite: tossed with fresh pasta, crisp pancetta, garlic, red chiles, reduced white wine, and shaved Parmesan. Orecchiette is the traditional pasta shape to serve broccoli rabe with, but we recently liberated our pasta roller from storage. Fresh linguine turns out to be just fine, too!

Sautéed Rapini Pasta
Serves 4

Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot with:
    1½ tablespoons salt
    (1 bay leaf)
While the water comes to a boil, render over medium-low heat in a large skillet until crisp:
    ¼ pound bacon or pancetta, sliced
Reserve bacon to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat.

Trim the tough bottoms off:
    1 pound “rapini” (broccoli rabe, kale or cabbage broccoli, etc.)
Roughly chop the florets, leaves, and thin-stemmed portions. Set aside. Cut the thick stems into 1-inch pieces. Have ready:
    1 pound pasta (preferably fresh)
Note the cooking time of your pasta. The stems should cook for around 5 minutes. In the case of longer-cooking dried pasta, add pasta to the boiling water first and then add the stems 5 minutes before the pasta is done; if the pasta is fresh, add the stems first. When the pasta is al dente, drain pasta and stems in a colander (removing the bay leaf).

Turn the skillet up to medium high and add:
    4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    1 or 2 small dried red chiles, roughly chopped
Cook for 2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t brown. Add the reserved florets and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves wilt, about 1 minute. Carefully add to the pan:
    ½ cup dry white wine
Stir, scraping up any brown bits, and reduce by half. Add the cooked pasta and stems, the reserved bacon (crumbled), along with:
    2 oz. shaved Parmesan cheese
    Salt to taste
    Black pepper to taste
Toss thoroughly with the wine, garlic, chiles, and florets. Serve immediately in bowls, garnished with more Parmesan shavings.

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     1/4 teaspoon baking soda
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