One of my favorite ways to explore ingredients is to grab a huge bunch from the market and eat it little by little in several different dishes. I call these my starter ingredients and it’s all about testing. The key learnings are how to complement the flavors, optimize the textures, and make the cooking process efficient. If that sounds like stiff professional language, just enjoy the other key takeaway here: three delicious dishes from a robust spring vegetable!
This set of dishes is based on a flavor combination that I know well: broccoli rabe, a little spice, and cheese. Since broccoli rabe can be very bitter, the spice and cheese help to balance that flavor. Like when I tried the special Philly cheesesteak from Shorty’s – the bitterness and heartiness of the vegetable was too pronounced until I tried the sandwich again with hot peppers. In these dishes that spice comes from either a pinch of crushed red pepper or from a spicy pork sausage – with a little fattiness to also mellow the bitter.
The cheese choice was really fun for me because the beauty of the greenmarket is you get to talk to the artisans behind your food and learn a little. So I marched over to the Cato Corner Farm stand and asked what would taste good with broccoli rabe. The nice gentleman at the stand (shoutout to my fellow tall, Black foodies!!) let me sample five recommendations before I settled on Vivace, a chewy cross between Gruyere and Italian Provolone that’s got the right amount of salty and nutty to pair with the broccoli rabe. It doesn’t melt well, but thin slices are just perfect over the rye bread I used for the sandwich and the pasta pairing.
Here you are – a few dishes to experiment with. And I don’t want to take the fun out of your experiments, so no fixed recipes to limit your imagination. Let me know in the comments how you vary these dishes to match your tastes.
Broccoli Rabe Three Ways
Fresh Roasted Red Pepper Pasta (or other pasta)
Vivace Cheese (substitute Gruyere, Provolone or similar)
Spicy Pork Sausage
Broccoli Rabe and Vivace Grilled Cheese
Slice bread and cheese and set aside. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan with crushed red pepper over medium heat. Add a handful of broccoli rabe and cook until just tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and oregano. Push vegetables to side of pan and add one slice of bread then stack broccoli rabe and chese and add top bread. Simmer until toast is golden brown then flip and toast top layer. Enjoy hot.
Roasted Red Pepper Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Sausage
Bring water to a rolling boil and cook pasta until al dente reserving a bit of cooking water. Heat olive oil over medium heat a large pan. Saute shallots and garlic lightly then add crumbled or sliced sausage to brown. Stir in broccoli rabe and cook until just wilted. Stir in pasta with reserved pasta water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with toast and sliced Vivace cheese.
Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Panini
Slice bread and cheese and set aside. Cook sausage whole or crumble into pieces and cook until browned. Simmer sliced shallot or garlic and onion until translucent. Add a handful of broccoli rabe and cook until just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stack sausage and broccoli rabe in bread and toast in pan or panini press. Enjoy hot.