Monday, September 14, 2009

All for some and some for all

Cradling a huge bunch of broccoli rabe in my arms I begin to anticipate my favorite dinner. Slow cooked with white kidney beans and a little white wine, laced with Romano cheese and served over pasta, please.

So good, so yummy. My daughter shares this passion with me. We can dive into a huge bowl of these greens with pasta and polish it right off. My husband thinks we are mad and says a polite "no thanks". Broccoli rabe isn't for everyone I suppose. The bitter green takes some getting used to . It is featured in Italian cooking and I for one can't get enough of it. Bitter greens are said to be the secret to longevity for many cultures. I'm thinking of Greeks and Italians, and what is known as the Mediterranean diet. Beans, dark leafy vegetables and wine are all part of what is believed to be the best defence against certain diseases. Well, the jury may still be out on that, but it sounds good to me.
The Chinese know their greens too and broccoli rabe can easily be found in Chinese markets year round. The batch I am about to prepare came from the farmers market at Atlas Park, here in Queens. It's a tiny market with only two produce stands, but at this time of year everything is in abundance and as usual I come home with my bags stuffed.
The broccoli rabe, like spinach and other greens, cooks down very quickly, so if you are feeding a big group be sure to buy a lot. One pound for two people is not excessive, once you trim the stems and chop it up it can cook down to just over a cup. And for this dish, unless I am thinking well in advance (which I am not) I will use canned cannelloni beans.

Amanda, this dish is hearty and robust, with an earthy creaminess from the beans. Think rustic Italian. What do you suggest for a wine?

Broccoli Rabe & White Beans with Fusilli
1 large bunch of Broccoli Rabe, stems trimmed off and leaves coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves minced
1/2 teas. red pepper flakes
1 shallot minced
1 teas. salt
1 can Cannelloni Beans (white kidney beans) drained and rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 lb dry fussili (or penne, if you prefer)
1/4 cup grated Romano (my daughter and I prefer Romano cheese to Parmesan, or when we can afford it Parmigiano-Reggiano, but any of those will do)
3 Tbs. chopped basil
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Soak chopped Broccoli Rabe leaves in a bowl of cold water to rinse , then drain in a colander and set aside. Heat the Olive oil in a pan and add the garlic, red pepper flakes and shallot. Cook about 7 minutes till the garlic and shallot begin to soften and turn golden. Add the broccoli rabe (it can still be damp from the rinse water) and salt and allow the leaves to wilt down, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and the white wine and stir to combine. Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat to allow flavors to blend. The beans should start to break down a bit and the wine will begin to be absorbed. Don't let the pan get too dry. In a separate pot cook the fussili as directed until al dente. I like to add the hot pasta water into the broccoli rabe pan as it is cooking a quarter cup or so at a time to keep the greens moist. You want the sauce to be loose, but not watered down. Add the cooked drained pasta to the greens and add cheese to taste. Add the basil and toss so that the pasta is coated with the sauce. Finish with some good quality olive oil drizzled on top.

This dish traditionally calls for white beans, but pink beans taste pretty great too!

Mange bien!

I am a huge fan of Broccoli Rabe! But, as is usually the case, I have just one or two ways I prepare it. Now I can add a third! Two wines, a red and white, from the same producer immediately come to mind. Last May, I was fortunate enough to have an authentic Sicilian food and wine pairing with Guiseppe Tasca d'Almerita, from the estate of the same name. He led us through a "typical" lunch at a Sicilian restaurant in Wyckoff, NJ. This "typical" lunch spanned the course three hours of intense eating and drinking. It was probably the best food/wine experience I have had to date. Tasca d'Almerita is currently one of Sicily's leading wineries. While they have some higher-priced, incredible wines, they also produce some inexpensive gems as well. One of the wines we enjoyed was the 2007 Leone, a white made from a blend of 85% Catarratto and 15% Chardonnay. While Catarratto is only grown in Sicily, it is Italy's most cultivated varietal. This wine is full of depth and elegance. It offers beautiful aromatics, and a rich, round palate. While the Leone offers plenty of fruit, there is also minerality and earthiness to it. The Chardonnay gives a creaminess to the wine which works well with the beans. The Leone retails for about $15.
myself, Giuseppe, and Chuck Russo

For the red, I was thinking Nero d'Avola. It is the most important red grape in Sicily. Tasca d'Almerita makes Lamuri, which is made from this varietal. You mentioned "think Rustic Italian" and I think this wine fits that description. It is incredibly rich with lots of spice, vanilla and coffee aromas. It is medium in body, and should pair particularly well with Mediterranean fare. Nero d'Avola is often compared to Syrah in that it typically produces "bigger" wines with sweet fruit and peppery flavors. The Tasca d'Almerita Lamuri retails for about $17. Both wines present a terrific bang for the buck.

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