Thank God we’ve turned the corner into January. I always look back on December with relief that it’s over. The darkness is waning now, even if for only a few minutes a day. I won’t be tempted to eat one more Christmas cookie. It’s time for clean food. That’s what my friend Judith and I used to call it. There was clean food and there was dirty food. We ate French fries with abandon and then we’d say, ‘Gotta eat some vegetables.’ And then, ‘Technically fries are vegetables.’ In our hearts we knew that clean meant green. But way back then, we’d never heard of broccoli rabe.
It’s because broccoli rabe is grown-up food. It has an edge. In other words, it’s a little bitter. Escarole, dandelion greens, endive, frisée, arugula: they’re all for grown-ups. They taste of the earth. They demand an acquired taste, a taste that comes with time. They’re not for sissies raised solely on mashed potatoes.
Their bitterness is like the lines on your face. You earn them: laughing, crying, yawning, squinting, frowning, smirking. A history of eating brings the same kind of experience to your palate. When you’ve lived a little you know you have to take the bitter with the sweet.
If you have a very large bunch of broccoli rabe, you may want to pump up the garlic and the raisins. You could also tart this up (literally) with some balsamic vinegar, but I love the unadulterated simplicity of the raisins and slightly bitter broccoli together with no frills. If you do add vinegar, remember that acid turns green vegetables drab and olive-colored quickly, so wait until the last minute.
Take the Bitter with the Sweet Broccoli Rabe (Serves 4)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (rapini)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Pour the olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet and add the garlic and raisins. Set it on the stove, but don’t turn on the heat yet. Fill a large (5 to 6-quart) pot with about 2 inches of water and bring it to a boil over medium heat.
2. Rinse the broccoli rabe and discard any yellowed or discolored leaves. Line up the stems and cut a sliver off the bottom to remove the tired looking ends. Discard the ends. Cut across the stalks, leaves and flowers to make 3-inch lengths.
3. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt to the boiling water and toss in the broccoli rabe. Cook at a low boil for 2 to 4 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and the stalks are crisp-tender. Drain.
4. Meanwhile, turn the heat under the skillet to medium. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle and the raisins soften (about one minute or less) add the broccoli rabe to the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and toss to mix the broccoli with the raisins and garlic . Serve immediately.