Greens for body and soul
The farmer’s market’s been open for three solid weekends, and not a recipe out of me yet. Blame a busy life, interrupted by a bad cold, both of which left me with neither the time nor the inclination to cook anything more complicated than canned soup and oatmeal.
Still, that didn’t keep me from grabbing a couple of pretty bunches of rapini from Nature’s Fountain Farm this past Saturday. It was getting near closing time, and from the size of the pile (as compared to, say, the lone bunch of radishes left on their table), I’m guessing sales of these lovely greens suffered from a collective case of “but what the heck is it, and what do you do with it?”
Clearly, not enough folks here in Western Oregon grew up with mothers from the South – of the US, or of Italy. Because those mothers know what to do with greens.
Rapini (Brassica rapa) is sometimes called broccoli raab or rabe, because its small flower heads look slightly like wee broccoli heads. It’s more closely related to mustard greens, but not quite as pungent. Personally, I’d put it midway between the mildness of kale and the pungent bitterness of mustard or turnip greens, with a nutty quality I find quite appealing. Young rapini is quite a bit more tender than kale, and doesn’t need long simmering to make it palatable.
The Italians love rapini, and feature it in fresh spring pasta dishes, typically chopped in bite-sized lengths – stems and leaves – then blanched, drained, wrung dry and sauteed in olive oil.
That’s generally how I cook it, sans pasta, and it makes a lovely side dish. Try this:
Sauteed rapini and mushroom
- 1 bunch rapini
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- Half a dozen crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbsp currants (optional)
- 1 Tbsp pine nuts (optional)
- Grated parmesan or romano cheese
Trim root ends from rapini; chop stems and leaves coarsely.
Bring a quart of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rapini, and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until bright green and tender. Drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Drain well, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze out excess water.
Wipe the saucepan dry and return to heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, the minced garlic and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to shrink. Add the currants, pine nuts and rapini; stir well to coat with oil, and continue cooking until hot and fragrant.
Toss with a little grated parmesan or romano, and serve as a side dish. Or, if you’ve been feeling puny and craving greens, eat the whole mess for dinner.