Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is wild looking vegetable. You can often find it in the produce section attempting to be tamed by a twist tie that is at capacity. As soon as you undo that little wire, it's you versus the broccoli rabe as it unfurls itself all over your kitchen counter. I learned early on that the trick lies in chopping as much of it as you can with the twist tie still secured in place. That way you control it, not the other way around. Even its flavor is a bit wild. Its leafy bitterness begs to be tamed by a healthy dose of some kind of fat. Here in Philadelphia, especially at Tommy DiNic's, that richness most often takes the form of roast pork and sharp provolone on a soft Italian roll. Having lived in this city for almost four years, I would argue that this sandwich epitomizes Philadelphia food scene even more than the Philly cheesesteak, at least among Philadelphians.
Prior to living in Philadelphia, one of my first introductions to the vegetable took the form of a classic Italian pasta dish, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. Broccoli rabe was sauteed in a garlicky, spicy oil that was seasoned with the sausage, then tossed with orecchiette, the cooked sausage, lots of Parmigiano-reggiano, and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs and more Parmigiano-reggiano. It is one of the first dishes I made my boyfriend, and a dish that I have since recreated at home too many times to count, making changes here and there, depending on what I have on hand and what we are craving. I have substituted local turkey sausage for pork sausage, added chickpeas to the sausage, left out the sausage and added chickpeas, added pine nuts, used spaghetti and penne instead of the orecchiette, and even tossed in a little ricotta at the end. I decided to mix things up once again, and this time I left out one primary ingredient- the pasta itself. Blasphemous, I know, but I did this to highlight the incredible versatility of this vegetable and this particular flavor combination. Here are just a few ideas:
- Serve it alone as a side dish
- Serve atop crostini smeared with ricotta cheese
- Add it to your next sandwich or even to a cooked sausage
- Spread it atop a pizza with ricotta, fresh mozzarella, or even goat cheese prior to baking
- Serve it beneath a poached egg
- Serve it atop polenta
- Toss the broccoli rabe and chickpeas with pasta and sprinkle with the garlic, cheese, and breadcrumb mixture
- Toss the broccoli rabe and chickpeas with macaroni and cheese and sprinkle with the garlic, cheese, and breadcrumb mixture
- Really, the possibilities are endless!
However you decide to try this, it is best to wait until close to serving to add the crunchy garlic and breadcrumb mixture. I can say, that after eating many versions of this as leftovers, it is still delicious, even if it is just a teensy bit soggy.
Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas with Toasted Garlic Breadcrumbs and Pine Nuts
1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini)
1 t. salt
3 T. olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 T. unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 T. pine nuts
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c. cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 T. grated parmigiano-reggiano or parmesan cheese, divided
salt to taste
Prepare the broccoli rabe first. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water heats, remove the tough bottom stems of the broccoli rabe and discard. Chop the remaining stems and leaves into 1-inch pieces. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, and add the broccoli rabe. Turn heat to medium and allow broccoli rabe to cook for about 3 minutes. Drain in colander and set broccoli rabe aside.
Make the garlic oil and topping. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic cloves and cook, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes or until garlic turns golden and starts to crisp. Be careful not to burn. Remove the garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel. Add the breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes to the oil remaining in the pan, and cook for 8-10 minutes while stirring, until breadcrumbs turn deep golden and pine nuts become toasted. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and place on the same paper towel as the garlic.
Add another 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet with any residual oil and heat to medium-high. Add in the drained broccoli rabe, the cooked chickpeas, and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to combine, and cook for 5 minutes until everything is heated through. Remove from heat, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of cheese, and stir. Prior to serving, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the garlic, breadcrumb, pine nut mixture. Enjoy! Serves 4 as a side dish, tops 1 pizza, mixes in with 1 lb. of pasta, tops 4 sandwiches, or tops several crostini.