Saturday, March 28, 2020

Broccoli Rabe

It's time to reveal the official vegetable for my pandemic experience:


The Savior of the Budget Chowhound

There were many, many, weeks of my life where broccoli rabe was pretty much the only green vegetable I ingested. There isn't much, like, Swiss chard served in the sorts of restaurants I once hyper-patronized. If broccoli rabe didn't exist, I'd likely be dead by now.

Broccolini Rivalry

I really like broccolini (aka baby broccoli) and it tastes great simply steamed, so I never learned to prepare serious broccoli rabe, which is fussy to clean, trim, and endlessly sauté. Plus, I'm on a low fat diet, for which the aforementioned broccolini is a wonderful boon, while broccoli rabe...not so much.
Speaking of broccolini...some types of produce simply are what they are. Two equally fresh carrots or cucumbers will taste pretty much the same. But the best broccolini I ever had, from an organic farm in East Islip, Long Island run by an Italian guy, was 100x better than the second best. They hardly ever have it, and, when they do, it vanishes quickly. But it's as richly delightful as fudge.
Daniel Gritzer's Method

I was inspired by chef Daniel Gritzer, who I didn't previously know about despite his amazing credentials:
Daniel cooked for years in some of New York's top American, Italian and French restaurants - starting at the age of 13, when he began staging at the legendary restaurant Chanterelle. He spent nearly a year working on organic farms in Europe, where he harvested almonds and Padron peppers in Spain, shepherded a flock of more than 200 sheep in Italy, and made charcuterie in France. When not working on, thinking about, cooking and eating food, he blows off steam (and calories) as an instructor of capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art.
I like how Gritzer writes - no snobbery, just down-to-earth explanation. I also like that he engages in the comments section (a handy asshole "tell" is non-famous people limiting access/feigning aloofness; people often reveal embarrassing truths via efforts to display status).

First there's the real article, then there's the near-pointless recipe they forced him to create for search engines and recipe clippers.

Nothing mind-blowing, but I appreciated a few points:

1. Don't be too precise about blanching duration because you'll want to overcook the rabe, anyway.
2. Reduce bitterness not via long blanching (which sacrifices flavor), but by long sautéing (he doesn't actually state it this way, but it's implied).
2. Overcooking is encouraged, but do it via a trailing very low heat sauté after the proper cook (which is convenient, because you don't need to fuss with it much at the low heat).
3. The green color can fade in the trailing sauté (so watch for it if that matters to you).
4. His quantity of oil (1/4 cup per 1 lb of broccoli rabe) is ace. Not a drop of excess, but any less would obviously degrade the result.

Mine turned out great! Look!

Foreign Proxies

I served it tossed with gnocchi, because, I think, I was subconsciously craving Shanghai/Taiwanese-style rice cakes with chopped pickled cabbage:

(photo stolen from here)

...and this actually scratched that itch.

I do lots of foreign proxy eating in many contexts. Just as frequent travelers can't help shuffling locales in their heads, I do the same with cuisine. It's all modular for me, like Legos or Garanimals. Examples:
• - A beloved Korean restaurateur once told me she cooked french toast for her kid each morning, and I showed up once at her opening hour, 11 am, begging for french toast. I wanted HER french toast.

• - I once asked a Queens Pakistani restaurant to serve me chicken tikka with raita wrapped in naan. The owner told me “Dude, just go down the block and get a greek souvlaki sandwich!” I said “I know, I know….but I want it from YOU”

• - A fantastic Thai place (as good as Sripraphai in some ways, though the curries are sweet) opened recently in the Westchester suburbs, and they make particularly good pad see ew. I've been building up the desire to have them do beef pad see ew completely mild (I usually request "very spicy" - btw, for the trick to doing that convincingly in Thai restaurants - along with a zillion other tricks for a zillion other cuisines - see my app, Eat Everywhere). Why? Because I'm hankering for Cantonese beef chow fun and don't know any great places for it right now.

Matt Stanczak, founder of legendary Stanziato's Brick Oven Pizza in Danbury (no longer his operation but still pretty good), and the legendary EGGZ breakfast truck, as well as myriad other creative food adventures, offers great tips:
I learned how to prep/clean/cook b’rabe about 4 years ago from my Italian mother in law. Before that I was messing it up by blanching until soft in salted water, then finishing off in olive oil with slivered garlic and chile flakes. Now I score the bottom part into 4 (like you would a scallion), so the flowering part cooks at the same rate as the thick stem. I also usually hack it up into 1-2” pieces. Low to med heat in a good amount of olive oil and slivered garlic, adding a splash of water only late in the process to help steam. At that point it’s so versatile...
Matt walks you through:

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