A week ago, our garden looked like this:
That's the broccoli rabe, in full bloom. It sort of got away from us, the way I imagine your child's years in elementary school might, in that eerie way that makes you sit down and realize suddenly one day that poof! a whole experience is just gone. There's no turning back with the broccoli rabe: in March, it was a seed, and now suddenly, without warning, we've gone full circle, straight to the bolting stage.
The worst part is, we missed most of the edibility part.
Supposedly, the bulk of that happens before the flowering, during a green, tight-headed budding stage. I can't be positive, but I'm fairly sure that this came and went while I was 3,000 miles away in Seattle, because when I returned, we were already headed toward full-on blooming yellow. I kept hoping for a mix up, but when the seed pods emerged, there was really no use in pretending. I cut the last handful of tender florets from the base of the plants, and sent the rest to the compost heap.
Then I pulled out some sausage out of the freezer from the pig we bought at Paskamansett Farms last fall, a box of shells left in the cupboard from who knows when, and a head of garlic, and sent the rapini off in good old-fashioned Italian style. (The Italians think sausage and broccoli rabe are a match made in heaven, and they are absolutely right.)
This particular match came from a compendium of recipes put together by the editors of Cook's Illustrated called The Quick Recipe. Everything in it is fast and easy and carefully tested according to criteria like doesn't use too many pans and doesn't require too many fancy ingredients. And of course, since it's Cook's Illustrated, they accomplish all this in a long-winded, adventurous sort of way that ends in triumph without any sacrificing of flavor or good taste.
I changed a few things—butter instead of oil, grated cheddar instead of Parmesan, a bit more chicken broth, and of course, the sausage from our pig—but for the most part, this is a test kitchen invention from Those Who Try Not To Dirty Pans.
Of course, ahem, they borrowed a bit, too. I have a feeling if the Italians came over right now and saw us out on the porch, rabe and shells and ground sausage in hand, they just might understand.
BROCCOLI RABE & SAUSAGE, WITH SHELLS
This is a very good dish for the cool, gray nights we've been having. Like the weather, it strikes a sort of compromise between spring and summer—it's heavy and light all at once.
1/4 pound medium pasta shells, cooked, drained, and set aside
2 ounces ground pork sausage
2 small cloves garlic, minced
a pinch of red pepper flakes
a pinch of salt
1/4 pound broccoli rabe
1/2 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 ounce cheddar cheese, grated
In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until it browns. Turn the heat down to low and add the garlic, the red pepper flakes, and just a pinch of salt. Stir constantly until you start to smell the garlic, about a minute. Turn the heat up to medium-high and quickly add the chicken broth and the broccoli rabe. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and let the rabe steam for about two minutes, then take the cover off and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates.
Remove the pan from the heat, and toss the broccoli rabe and sausage in a large bowl with the shells, the butter, and the cheese. Eat hot.