Apr 23, 2016

On the BITTER SIDE!

Young broccoli raab from my garden
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Those who try foods that are on the bitter side like arugula, dandelion greens, escarole, Frisée, cilantro, watercress, or bitter melon, move over because broccoli raab is here. 

Broccoli, common in the United States, was actually introduced to this country by the Italians almost 100 years ago. However broccoli's distant, older cousin, broccoli raab, is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, and was one of the earliest cultivated crops. First time broccoli raab eaters might not be ready for its strong flavor as it is an acquired taste, as most Italians know.

Italians, especially Sicilians, have been enjoying broccoli raab's pungent, nutty flavor for centuries, often combining sweet and savory flavors like raisins, nuts and sweet sausage, and starches like pasta, polenta and focaccia with the subtly bitter broccoli raab. Broccoli raab is also a common vegetable in Portuguese cuisine, cooked in olive oil with potatoes and garlic, or cut into thin strips and made into a green soup called "Caldo Verde" (see recipe below). The Chinese eat a less bitter relative of broccoli raab called Chinese broccoli (Gai-Lan). Chinese broccoli is usually stir-fried with garlic cloves, vegetable stock, rice wine, ginger, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. See this site for the (recipe).

Most cooks have found that Broccoli raab tastes best when cooked with other strong flavors like garlic, ginger, soy, citrus and cheese, foods that are easy to find here in Hawaii. A member of the Brassica family, broccoli raab is related to cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, rutabaga, turnips and of course broccoli. It is rich in vitamin A, and C. It's also a good source of folate (a B vitamin that protects against heart disease), as well as potassium, fiber, and calcium. One cup of broccoli raab provides more than 100% of the daily value of vitamin K, which some research shows may help build and maintain strong bones.

Propagation: Unfortunately here on the Hawaiian Island of Moloka'i, fresh broccoli 
raab is not available in our small grocery stores, so I grow my own by buying seeds from Hikiola Cooperative, or online (see photo above). It's a cool season crop, so I usually plant my seeds in February or March, and enjoy my crop in about 35 days. Johnny's Selected Seeds carries both 'Sessantina Grossa' and 'Spring Raab.' 'Sessantina Grossa' is an early variety with large buds and resembles broccoli. 'Spring Raab' is a larger, hardier and more versatile variety that can be planted in the fall for a winter and spring harvest.

Simple Preparation: Blanching broccoli raab for a couple of minutes in salted water usually removes some of its bitter flavor. Once blanched, saute broccoli raab in olive oil and garlic for about 10 minutes and add to cooked pasta and a bit of cooking liquid, finely chopped dried figs and toasted pine nuts.

Most Americans avoid bitter foods, however, there are many time tested, delicious ways to integrate bitter foods into common recipes, here are a few:


Portuguese Caldo Verde
Caldo Verde translated literally means "Green Pot" in Portuguese. It's a hearty soup made with broccoli raab or kale, Portuguese smoked sausage, onion, carrots, beans, potatoes, garlic, and onion. How can you go wrong!

Ingredients:
1/2 pound of broccoli raab, or kale
1 pound linguiça (Portuguese smoked sausage), split along the length and sliced 1/2-inch thick
6 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots peeled and sliced
1 can white beans, like navy, cannelloni, or Great Northern, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Procedure:
Wash the broccoli raab, remove the tough ends of the stems and julienne the leaves into very thin strips.

In a skillet, brown the sliced Portuguese sausage until done, and set aside.

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Boil the potatoes, onion, carrots, beans and garlic in the chicken stock with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for about 15 minutes until the potatoes begin to break down. Once tender, mash the potatoes a bit with a fork on the side of the pot to thicken the soup. Bring the soup to a low boil and add the broccoli raab and sausage, cooking uncovered until the broccoli raab is tender, about 10-15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste, add the remaining olive oil. Serve with thick pieces of Portuguese cornbread. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Parmesan cheese on top of the soup is optional, but tasty. Kale can be substituted for the broccoli raab.


Stir-fried Broccoli Raab
This is a wonderful way to enjoy this bitter vegetable. It is first blanched in water to remove some of its bitterness, then briefly stir-fried with the Asian flavors of ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. 

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds broccoli raab, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Procedure:
Cook broccoli raab in boiling water 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge into ice water; drain well.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli raab, ginger, and garlic to pan; stir-fry 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Serve with steak or roast chicken, or on an Asian noodle salad. Makes 6 servings.


Roasted Broccoli Raab with Meyer Lemon
Ingredients:
1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt
1/2 pound young broccoli raab, tough stems removed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Procedure:
Preheat the broiler to 500˚F.

Zest the Meyer lemon with a micro plane and set the zest aside. Now cut the Meyer lemon in half.

Toss the chopped pistachios in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the Meyer lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Toss the young broccoli raab with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread it out in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Place the dish under the broiler for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the broccoli raab and any crispy bits of cheese that are stuck to the bottom. Place them on a serving platter and drizzle the Meyer lemon juice and the pistachio/olive oil mixture over the top. Makes 4 side servings.


Broccoli Raab with Anchovies & Garlic
Ingredients:
2 pounds broccoli raab, stem ends trimmed, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Procedure:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add broccoli raab and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, anchovies and crushed red pepper (if using); cook, stirring, until the garlic is very light brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccoli raab  toss to coat, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.


Broccoli Raab with Rigatoni, 
Macadamia Nuts & Raisins
Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts, lightly toasted
1 bunch broccoli raab
1 tablespoon salt
8 ounces rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
black pepper to taste

Procedure:
Lightly toast macadamia nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. 

Cook broccoli raab in boiling water 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge into ice water; drain well. Slice broccoli raab into thin small pieces about 1/2" long. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, and pasta. Cook for 12 minutes or until just cooked.

Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter. When butter is melted, toss in the broccoli raab and garlic. Toss together for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and raisins to the sauté pan. Simmer for 1 minute more or until white wine reduces and raisins are tender.

When pasta is done, scoop out a bit of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta. Add the drained pasta,  macadamia nuts, and grated cheese to the sauté pan. Season with pepper, and toss until combined. If pasta needs to be loosened, add a tiny bit of the reserved pasta water, and toss.

Serve with grated romano cheese. Makes 4 servings.



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