- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In winter, I feel vegetable-challenged when planning menus for dinner parties. I make an effort to be inventive with butternut, acorn and other cold-weather squashes, and I roast, pan-fry and mash the ubiquitous potato.

When it comes to green vegetables, I am less creative. I seem to resort to blanching small green beans, then dusting them with sea salt or sauteing brussels sprouts with garlic, then braising them in stock.

In the fall, though, I branched out for one of my cooking classes and served broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) as a side to roasted tenderloin of beef and was delighted with the enticing taste of the greens.

Broccoli rabe has slim stalks (not thick ones like traditional broccoli) with dark green leaves and small buds that resemble miniature broccoli florets.

When cooked, its flavor is slightly but pleasingly bitter. Italy has long been the most innovative when it comes to preparing this vegetable, so I added Italian accents.

I sliced a bunch of broccoli rabe into small pieces and quickly cooked it in a pot of boiling water.

Then I sauteed the wilted greens in garlic-scented olive oil and garnished them with crispy bits of bacon, toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano.

I loved pairing beef tenderloin with broccoli rabe, but I’ve also discovered that this hearty vegetable complements broiled pepper-coated lamb chops, roast chicken seasoned with lemon and mustard-glazed baked ham, as well.

When entertaining, I can prep much of the following recipe for broccoli rabe in advance. I cook the greens, toast the pine nuts and fry the bacon a few hours ahead so that at serving time I need only a few minutes for pan-frying the greens. Thank goodness I’m out of my rut. Now when planning winter dinners, broccoli rabe will be a frequent and welcome addition.

Broccoli rabe with bacon and pine nuts

1 large bunch broccoli rabe (about 1 pound), washed

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 garlic cloves, slivered

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (see Note)

3 slices good quality smoked bacon, cut into -inch pieces, fried until crisp and browned

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano, optional

Trim and discard about 3 inches from stems of broccoli rabe. Then slice remaining broccoli rabe in to 2- to 3-inch pieces.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons salt. Drop prepared broccoli rabe into it and let water come back to a boil. Boil until greens are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain broccoli rabe and pat dry. Set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with garlic and cook until garlic is softened and fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Turn heat to high and add broccoli rabe to pan. Cook, stirring, until greens are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Return garlic to pan along with half of pine nuts, half of bacon and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Saute, stirring, 1 minute more.

Season greens with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with remaining pine nuts and bacon.

Dust with cheese, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Put pine nuts in single layer in a pie plate and toast in preheated 300-degree oven until golden, 5 to 8 minutes.

Watch carefully since they burn easily. Remove and cool.


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