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The fourth color in the rainbow

The most depressing meal of my life was white and yellow. That’s all I remember. As someone who spends her free waking hours trying to capture in words the look, taste, and texture of her food, I find this a little embarrassing. It tasted pale, and that’s the most I can say. Maybe it involved sticky rice and a crookneck squash, or a pallid filet of plain, white-fleshed fish. Maybe it was a stir-fry constructed on the color palette of a daisy. Evidently, its details were not memorable, nor delicious. It was nearly nine years ago, a dinner in the dining hall of my freshman dormitory, and I guess that alone should tell me something. But still, all I remember is the white and the yellow, pale and pasty, and the sour taste of my disappointment as I stared at it, still hungry. And maybe that’s for the best.

I’m certainly not the first person to trot out the old we-eat-with-our-eyes adage, and anyway, I’m not always sure that it’s true. But on days like today, I really do think that it’s all in the color. Or that’s what I said to myself when I sat down to a plate of broccoli rabe, cooked just to tender and a shiny emerald green, piled atop two pieces of garlic toast.

Even up here in the Pacific Northwest, where real summer is still on its way, the browns and oranges and dingy whites of winter are giving way to a whole spectrum of pinks, peaches, reds, and greens. I may be the only person out there inclined toward color-coded food cravings, but I swear, sometimes a body just wants something green. This has nothing to do with nutritional value, or at least, not on the surface. This is not about diets, bikinis, or Shape magazine. This is about the shape and flavor of the fourth color in the rainbow: grassy, earthy, and herbal.

This is about a green that’s sweet and garlicky with an aftertaste of heat, heaped into a tangled topknot on a slice of toast. Broccoli rabe is not a summer vegetable, per se, but there was a pretty bunch in the market this weekend, and well, I had a craving. It’s a funny, hybrid-looking thing, with a wild look that sits somewhere between broccoli floret and shiso leaf. But once blanched and sautéed with lots of olive oil and garlic, it tames to a delicious, pungent, and lightly bitter flavor, not entirely unlike Swiss chard or kale. Drippy with olive oil and its own cooking juices, it calls for a plate under the chin and a napkin in hand. And it tastes of nothing but green—which is to say, not pale, and certainly not depressing.

Broccoli Rabe Toasts with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Red Pepper
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2006

This is one of those lots-of-bang-for-your-buck numbers. If you have even a bachelor pad pantry, you’re most of the way there: just buy a bunch of broccoli rabe, put a pot of water on to boil, and all you have to worry about is your impending garlic breath. This Italian-flavored recipe can feed two to four people, depending on portion sizes and the number of bread slices you choose to use. I made a light lunch—with leftovers for tomorrow—out of two heaping toasts, a grapefruit, and some chocolate, but more greens-wary souls might prefer a smaller serving as a starter, or served alongside a meaty main course.

For the toasts:
A few slices, about 1/3 inch thick, from a long, crusty, country loaf
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved crosswise

For the broccoli rabe:
1 lb broccoli rabe, large stems discarded and the remainder coarsely chopped
3 Tbs good-quality olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
3 Tbs water
¼ tsp salt

Preheat the broiler, and fill a large saucepan or Dutch oven about 2/3rds full of salted water. Bring it to a boil over high heat.

While the water is heating, prepare the toasts. Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet, brush both sides of the bread with oil, and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Broil the bread about 4 inches from the heating element, turning the slices halfway through, until golden, about 3 minutes total. Gently rub both sides of the bread with the garlic. Discard the garlic, and set the toasts aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli rabe, and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the broccoli rabe into a colander, and press it gently to remove any excess water. Set it aside.

Wipe the pot clean, add the oil, and warm it over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Taking care to avoid hot oil splatters, add the broccoli rabe, water, and salt, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Divide the warm broccoli rabe over the toasts, and serve.

Yield: 2 to 4, depending on the number of toasts and the appetites around the table


Blogger astillac said...

The saddest meal I ever had was a bowl of canned peas. They were simply gross -- pale green and funny tasting. I was pretty little, but it disturbed me into not wanting to eat peas ever again.

Having a garden, later in my childhood, fixed that. I would eat the peas right out of the pod. Ah, I wish I had a garden, or a Farmer's Market I could get to.

11:38 PM, June 12, 2006  
Anonymous J. Bo said...

LOVE broccoli rabe! This looks/sounds delectable.

As for color being a flavor component, I think this is something we know as children and tend to forget as we get older; just ask any wee one with a sucker "What flavor is your lollipop?" More often than not, the answer will be "Green," or "Purple."

What more could you possibly need to know?

11:57 PM, June 12, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

Sure captures my craving!

2:55 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger gagatka said...

Though I thought it was spinach on toast at first the charm remains - simple, green and oily... I love it!

4:21 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Tony said...

Wow! I thought this was secret Italian business! This is really traditional central Italian fare! I did not appreciate this as a child as the flavours were too strong and bitter but it is a wonderful dish that is quick to make.

An east Asian take on this is very popular for dim sum here: gai lan cooked in stock/soy/garlic with a little oyster sauce drizzled on top. Gai lan is a little sweeter but the overall effect is a dark savoury one.

Funny how colours in food can be so important. I tried a red meal once (romesco soup followed by beetroot ravioli with ricotta) but that's another story...

4:26 AM, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

Hi Molly,

Be reassured, you are not alone in craving certain food colours. I actually think it is even natural and varies with seasons! Cold or Hot, like cold or warm colours! Our bodies are smarter than we think! They are in control, after all!

4:37 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger s'kat said...

Yum! I just discovered broccoli raab within the past few months, and am absolutely head over heels! Green is good.

5:04 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

Is there anything that Garlic can't make taste good?

5:48 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger mger said...

Molly... what fabulous inspiration. I love garlicky broccoli rabe and have often lamented that eating it as a main course leaves me still wanting. Will be making it over toast when I need a broccoli rabe meal… because greens plus bread? Well that can only equal delicious.

7:15 AM, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous Alison said...

Mmm. I bet the recipe would work with kale, too. (Kale is my new favorite green. It took moving to Kentucky for me to understand that it's more than just a garnish).

Lovely photos, as usual.

7:25 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Ugly Gourmet said...

Thank you for the memories. Growing up my grandmother was obsessed with Rapini or for the matter all green summer foods. She would search our yard for fiddleheads and dandelions. She taught me to make all of these with homemade hot Italian sausages. We always kept it simple as we each topped our own scali loaf with her Rapini. Today I often make it with pancetta and a touch of chili oil, but that's only because I don't have her touch. She could make anything taste spectacular with just olive oil and garlic. Oh, and always a pinch of crushed red pepper...

Thanks, UG My Blog

8:21 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Cricket said...

Yum. I am going to make this tonight.

And you are not the only one who craves food by the color. Sometimes I just have to have red (off the vine tomatoes, ripe strawberries, peppers) and you have now instilled the need for green into my day.

8:47 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger johanna said...

Cooked in just that way with olive oil and garlic, it's also delicious on top of a tiny bit of spaghetti, with fresh parmesan on top. mmm.

Also re:color - I've had color-coded meals before. It's great. The all-red meal is one of the easiest.

11:20 AM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Dawna said...

I spent several fruitless hours searching for broccoli rabe last Saturday. Neither the Farmers' Market nor any of the specialty green grocers had any available, so my much awaited broccoli rabe and white bean pasta will have to wait a little longer. Maybe I'll have better luck next weekend at the market...

1:20 PM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh, astillac, those peas sound so sad. What happens to canned vegetables sometimes? I mean, canned green beans? Although I will eat them if they cross my path - as they did many a time in the ole college dining hall - really, how exactly is that the same little green thing that I buy at the market? Harumph. But three cheers for getting yourself sorted out about peas. From the pod, ain't nothin' lovelier.

J. Bo., what a good way of looking at it! I mean, who knows exactly what those red popsicles were supposed to taste like - cherry, optimistically? All I needed to know was that I wanted the red one. It tasted red, you know?

Thank you, Tanna. Now, go get some broccoli rabe!

Gagatka, I know - there's something about greens and olive oil. Love at first sight, for me.

Tony, those (or you?) Italians know how it's done. I'm sure that I too would have been timid about these sorts of greens as a kid, but by god, it's all I can do to stop from eating the whole potful now. Mmmm. And as for the gai lan, thank you for the tip! I have seen it in the Asian markets around here, and I never knew if there was something special that I was supposed to do with it. Your method sounds like just the ticket. As does, by the way, that beetroot ravioli with ricotta...

Bea, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one. Phew. And I think you're right. My body knows most things better than I do.

S'kat, I should have known! You have very good taste, my dear.

Wheresmymind, oooh, now there's a dangerous rhetorical question. Brandon would no doubt say no - for him, the more garlic, the merrier! For me, though, eh, well, I do like my dessert without garlic. I'm so unadventurous, I know.

mger, I hear you. Greens + bread = heaven! Especially when the greens are garlicky and slicked with olive oil...

Thank you, Alison. And yes, you're right - I'll bet this would be delicious with kale too! I wonder if you would maybe need to parboil it for less time, or maybe for more? You'll figure it out, I'm sure. Let me know if you give it a try...

Ugly Gourmet, what beautiful memories of your grandmother! Fiddlehead ferns, dandelion greens, Italian sausages! Wow. You lucky thing.

Cricket, I hope you like this as much as I do. And as for color-based cravings, I'll think of you the next time I bite into a strawberry.

Good idea about the spaghetti, johanna. Maybe for the last little bit of my leftovers?

And oh, Dawna, how disappointing. Sending my best broccoli rabe wishes in your direction...

6:10 PM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Anali said...

I so agree with you! Growing up, my mom always cooked from scratch and made sure to have colorful meals. She said that the variety of colors was how you could tell you were getting all your nutritional needs met. She said and still says that a meal should never be all one color, especially beige.

8:30 PM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Lapis said...

there was a memorable meal i made very young. my first sandwich was gooseberry jam and dill pickles, both green and both good with peanutbutter. no.

i love greens though, my personal favorite being garlic scapes (when i can find them) with chard not far behind. oh, and peas and cabbage and the wonderful brussels sprout.

stop me.

10:04 PM, June 13, 2006  
Blogger jenjen said...

I love anything broccoli! They were the only vegetable that looked appealing to me as a kid. I think because they resembled those little lego trees : ) who knows. But I know for me I am very visual and less likely to eat something if it doesn't look good.

12:54 AM, June 14, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

Alright...I guess desert would not be there on my garlic list! *eyesroll*

10:50 AM, June 14, 2006  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hi Orangette, I have just recently discovered your blog, and have loved every post. I am ga-ga for bruschetta, myself...for just about any meal of the day, and no matter what color is topping it! I started my own food blog a few months back and posted about a dinner of bruschetta with basil and prosciutto, and I highly recommend that combination. All the best.

2:20 PM, June 14, 2006  
Anonymous Nico said...

First thing I thought when I saw your pictures: "Hey, where did she get hold of my pictures?" :-D

No really, coincidentally, I made these delicious bruschette for a bunch of friends when I threw a goodbye party before I left Chapel Hill for the summer. They were Italian, and they had nothing but praise for this oh-so simple dish. I served it as a starter to a longer dinner. Even worse, I'm almost ashamed to say that I made the entire menu from that Gourmet issue. There was something about the pictures and the longing for Italian summer that I just *had* to go for the whole deal. The rigatoni were good -- especially serving the ricotta on the side is a nice detail and adds color and lets you experiment with the different tastes. The meat loaf with boiled eggs were spectacular to watch, but I wasn't too impressed by the mashed potato pie. An OK side but nothing special. What surprised me were the peas with mint. They go soooo well together. Anyway, try it, overall the meat, potatoes and peas balance out each other quite well.

Oh, and I made the ricotta cake, but at another occasion. ;-) Another big success, not too sweet, nice crust, and beautifully moist (and it stayed like that for several days).

3:07 PM, June 14, 2006  
Blogger Tokyoastrogirl said...

This dish + glass of crisp, New Zealand sauvignon blanc = The Perfect Summer Meal.

Can't wait to try it, thanks;).

4:46 PM, June 14, 2006  
Anonymous lindy said...

Broccoli rabe is indeed beautiful. I do believe though, that a nutritional need probably plays some part in the intensely physical cravings I get for bitter greens. It just feels so anatomical! Sometimes nothing else will do.

Have you noticed that more women than men seem to appreciate these delicious, lovely vegs? My non-scientific intuition is that it may have something to do with iron.

5:12 AM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Garrett said...

If you ever get a chance to work with Spanish Broccoli (the spiky lookin' kind!) it's totally yumtastic. Always worth a try if you can find it.

My mom would always serve it with whole roasted garlic and whatever cheese happened to be on hand Stilton, cheddar, and gorgonzola being the favorites!
*drool of fodd lust ensues*

Oh the memories you just evoked in my brain fill me with squealing, tasty joy!

2:34 PM, June 15, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Anali, I like your mom. Smart lady!

Lapis, that sandwich does certainly sound memorable, although I'm not entirely sure of whether that's a good thing or not! And as for the garlic scapes, I love them too. I always keep my eyes peeled for them at the farmers' market...

There really is something about broccoli, isn't there, jenjen? When cooked properly, it's fairly mild, so that may be why kids go for it - although your tree idea is much more fun. If you'd believe it, though, broccoli actually isn't related to broccoli rabe, which is what I use here. The little flowers that grow from broccoli rabe look similar to broccoli florets, so it's deceiving! You can read more about broccoli rabe here.

But you said "anything," wheresmymind! Dessert is part of "anything," right?

Hello there, Sarah - so glad you found me! I'm going to hop over to your blog right now and look for that bruschetta you mentioned. I love prosciutto, and 'tis the season for basil..

Nico, I'm kicking myself now for not having saved the entire menu! I tore out only the page for the broccoli rabe, meatloaf, and rigatoni. Argh.

Tokyoastrogirl, I wish I'd thought of that. I'd better go buy more broccoli rabe, and some wine...

Lindy, your iron hypothesis certainly makes good sense. I remember once, during my pseudo vegetarian years, having a very intense dream about a hamburger, and I woke up knowing that I just had to have one. I knew it must have been the iron - and all that delicious beefy flavor too. Mmm, iron.

Garrett, I've never even heard of Spanish broccoli. For shame! I'll keep my eyes open for it, and I'll be sure to have plenty of garlic on hand.

3:09 PM, June 15, 2006  
Anonymous J. Bo said...

Lindy, the late great Laurie Colwin wrote in one of her pieces that a friend told her not to bother trying to serve bitter greens to men-- they don't appreciate them the way women do!

1:22 PM, June 16, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

I too find that my palate often craves green in my food palette -- with a special hankering for bitter greens, and the place of honor reserved for my favorite, broccoli rabe. I have always made it EXACTLY by the method you describe here, which was a melange of Laurie Colwin and Sally Schneider, who ascribes the method to Patience Gray (Honey From A Weed). But I have never tried it on garlic toast, which sounds absolutely delectable!

And I am the luckiest of women in this respect: my guy, who has a list yea-long of all the things he WON'T eat, loves broccoli rabe, especially with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes.

7:41 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Mindy T. said...

In my world, broccoli rabe gets sauteed with lots of garlic and maybe some dried tomatoes and then gets tossed with pasta or dresses up a bowl or polenta. But, hey, little crostini... never thought of that. Love your blog, love your pics.


11:47 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

J. Bo, that's so interesting! I wonder if it's the iron, as Lindy suggested, or something else? I haven't done much in the way of scientific studies, but Brandon, at least, is sort of indifferent to bitter greens. That seems to support Lindy and Laurie's statements. On the other hand, though, my dear friend Nicho adores Swiss chard - but that could be because he was raised in a home with a garden full of the stuff. Hmmm. I wonder...

Julie, my dear, sometimes I think we share one palate!

Thank you, Mindy. That bowl of polenta is a good idea...

6:00 PM, July 04, 2006  
Anonymous Lauren said...

I am eating this right now, and it is awesome. Thank you for having a quick, simple recipe to keep the broccoli rabe in my fridge from going bad! Nomnomnom. Also, bought you book today... can't wait!

3:10 PM, March 26, 2009  

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