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Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

 I’m sorry I didn’t have this recipe for you sooner because this beautiful torta would have been perfect on your Easter table. I say this from firsthand knowledge because it was on our Easter table, thanks to my son Michael, who’s a terrific cook and who whipped this up in his kitchen as an appetizer before our Easter dinner.

 It was the perfect accompaniment to a glass of prosecco before the main event. But just because you missed out on eating this during Easter, doesn’t mean you can’t make it another time of year. It’s not only impressive in its presentation, but tastes pretty terrific too.
It’s loaded with pancetta, ricotta and broccoli rape (ok, for those of you thinking I misspelled this, please note that it’s not incorrect to say broccoli rape, since that’s the Italian spelling, or call it rapini, or broccoli rabe – they’re all correct.)
One of these tortas serves a lot of people, but the downside of having too many people share it is that you won’t have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. So before it all disappears, tuck away a slice or two just for yourself.
Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

 

For the crust:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
18 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled or frozen
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, well chilled or frozen
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice or unflavored vinegar
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water, just as needed
For the filling:
2 bunches rapini (“broccoli rape”)
2 lbs. part skim ricotta cheese, drained
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 pound pancetta, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon fine dried bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the egg glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten well with pinch of salt
Preheat an oven to 350 F.
Directions for the pie pastry
1. Combine the flour and salt and pulse a few times in a food processor to blend.
2. Add the cold butter and vegetable shortening and pulse only until the fat is cut into bits the size of peas.
3. Through the processor’s feed tube, add the egg and lemon juice or
vinegar, pulse once or twice, then add the ice water one tablespoon at a
time, pulsing once or twice between additions, only until dough begins
to show some clumps. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the inside
walls of the vessel. Do not form a dough ball on the blade.
4. Turn dough out onto a piece of wax paper (if it looks sandy and
dry, sprinkle on a tiny bit more water) and use your hands to bring it
together into a ball. It should hold the form of your fingers when
squeezed. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at
least 30 minutes or for up to 5 days until you are ready to make the
filling.
Note: If butter and vegetable shortening were frozen, dough can be rolled without prior chilling.
Directions for the filling
1. Wash the rapini in cold water, drain.
2. Detach and separate the stems from the tops of the vegetable. Set
the tops and the leaves aside. Using a small, sharp knife, peel any
especially tough skin from the thicker lower stalks, much like you would
peel the tough skin from the bottom of asparagus stalks.
3. Fill a large pot with plenty of water to cover all the greens and
bring to a rolling boil. Add the kosher salt and the peeled stems, cover
partially, and boil over high heat for 7 minutes. Now add the florets
and leaves and cook them together with the stems for 3 minutes more.
Drain the greens and allow them to cool. With your hands, squeeze out as
much water as you can. Chop them finely and set aside.
4. Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and render most of the fat from pancetta. Remove the pancetta and add the onion to the pan. Adjust the heat to medium-low
and sauté until the onion is transparent, another 10 minutes. Stir in
the garlic and continue to sauté gently for about another 3 minutes
until it softens and the onions are lightly colored, but do not brown
the mixture. Stir in the rapini, along with the pancetta. Set aside to cool.
5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly and mix in the bread
crumbs, ricotta, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Use a rubber spatula to fold in
the cooled rapini mixture, blending well.
6.  Select a springform pan.
Butter it lightly. Divide the chilled dough into two portions, one
slightly larger than the other. To use, roll out the larger ball of
dough on a lightly floured, wide sheet of parchment or waxed paper using
a floured rolling pin. Form an 11-inch round. Drape it around the pin
and transfer it to the pan. Press it gently onto the bottom and
sides.
7. Spoon in the filling.
8. Roll out the second ball of dough in the same manner into a
slightly smaller circle. Lay it over the filling. Crimp the edges
together to seal and trim off any excess to form an even edge. Cut several slashes in the top to allow steam to escape and decorate with extra pieces of dough, pressing them gently onto
the crust.
9. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and bake in the preheated oven
until golden, about 1 hour, 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and
transfer it to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm,
cut into wedges.
Note: This pie keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Reheat it in an oven preheated to 350 F until warm throughout, 20 to 30
minutes.

 

Polenta Festa Redux

Polenta Festa Redux

Once a year, the Italian cultural organization I’m involved with holds a polenta festa. It’s always one of the most well-attended events of the year, with lots of polenta dishes to enjoy – from appetizers and main courses to dessert. This year, the nasty New Jersey weather kept some people away, but that just meant there was more for those who did show up, carrying their warm platters of the humble cornmeal dish.
Here’s a sampling of the various offerings: polenta with sausages and sauerkraut from Mary Sue and Al:
Eleanor’s polenta with broccoli rabe
 Polenta with sausages and melted cheeses from Ciao Chow Linda:
We had entertainment too – two students from Princeton University who played everything from “O Sole Mio” to the intermezzo from “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Bravi studenti.
 Then it was on to dessert, including Gilda’s cornmeal almond cake. I’ve posted the recipe for this before and you can find it here.
 Cornmeal chocolate chip cookies
 Polenta lemon cake (almost identical to a recipe I posted here)
 The next night back at home, as the Polar “Vortex” made its way to Princeton, I warmed up with some polenta and wild greens, again crowned with a mixture of grated fontina and parmesan, the same topping I used on the sausage dish I took to the festa.
My dishes, the first picture with the sausage and the one above with wild greens, were assembled by making a pot of polenta (instructions for making polenta from scratch here), cooking – then slicing some Italian sausage (or cooking the wild greens in water, draining and sautéing in olive oil with garlic, salt and red pepper flakes)  and scattering it over the polenta. Top with some grated fontina cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. Heat in a 425 degree oven for a half hour or until cheese is melted and begins to turn slightly golden.
If you’re a neophyte when it comes to making polenta, fear not — take the plunge. The best polenta comes from constant stirring over a stove for 40 to 45 minutes, but I’ve been known to use the five-minute polenta too, and it’s not bad. Cookbook author Michele Scicolone even writes of a method using a slow cooker to make polenta, in her cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker.” And click here to learn about America’s Test Kitchen  “almost no-stir polenta” recipe.  Just don’t use that stuff that comes in a tube or you’ll be shut out in the polar vortex.
 
Polenta with Sausages (or wild greens) and Cheeses
Make polenta using one of the methods described and pour into an oven-proof dish.
Saute sausages in a pan until cooked through (or alternately do as I did and remove casings from sausage, then simmer in some water until cooked).
Slice and arrange sausages over polenta, poking some down into it. Cover with grated fontina and parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
For the wild greens, boil them in some water, drain. Then add a bit of olive oil to a pan, some minced garlic and let it soften. Put the drained greens back in, adding a bit of salt and red pepper flakes. Spread the mixture on the polenta, adding grated fontina and parmesan. Bake for 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
Basic Polenta – – Michele Scicolone, “The Italian Slow Cooker” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010)
Serves 6
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1½ teaspoons salt
5 cups water (or half water and half broth)
Additional water, milk, broth or cream, optional
In a large slow cooker, stir together the cornmeal, salt and water. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the polenta. If it seems too thick, add a little extra liquid. Cook for 30-60 minutes more, until thick and creamy. Serve hot.
Broccoli Raab, Rape Et Al

Broccoli Raab, Rape et al

 This vegetable goes by many monikers, both here and in Europe. Most Americans call it broccoli raab or broccoli rabe (pronouncing it “rahb.”) I’ve always know it as broccoli rape (pronounced “RAH-pay”) as Italians call it. But it’s also called cima di rapa, rapini, and sometimes broccolini or broccoletti. Who knew that this delicious vegetable, a staple of Chinese diets as well as Mediterranean ones, went by so many names? 

One of my readers emailed me, asking me to post more vegetable recipes, so I’m going to attempt to do that more often. This is one of my favorites.
Broccoli rape is related to the mustard family and is packed with vitamins A, C and K. But I eat it because it tastes great. It’s got a bitterness to it that I love, but I tame it with a little blanching. Don’t worry, it’ll still have a bitter edge. It’s nothing like regular broccoli.
It’s a beautiful sight to behold yellow fields of it in full bloom in springtime. They’re related to the bitter greens I pick in the wild each year for free! Click here for more info about picking your own in the wild. But if you wait to pick them when you see the flowers, they’re way too bitter to eat.
I’m usually disappointed when I eat it in restaurants, because it’s either overcooked or the stalks are fibrous. To overcome that at home, I peel each stalk a couple of inches from the bottom, something most restaurants won’t take the time to do. But it makes such a difference since the cooking time will be shorter and the stalks will be tender.
You can see the difference here, between the stalks on the left – that were peeled – and those on the right, that weren’t peeled and that look much tougher and more fibrous.
My favorite way to eat them is a simple preparation: Just parboil them for a couple of minutes in ample water, drain and toss with some olive oil, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. A little squirt of lemon at the end adds a nice finishing tang.
If you’ve cooked too much and have some left over, you can easily refashion them into another meal. Add a few sautèed mushrooms to the broccoli rape, and toss everything together with a little cooked pasta. Top with grated parmesan cheese.
Or use it as the base of a sandwich with slices of roast pork, roasted peppers and melted provolone cheese.

Sautèed Broccoli Rape

printable recipe here

Trim the bottom couple of inches from the stalks. Boil the broccoli rape in water for two to three minutes. Drain well. In another pan, sautè some minced garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the broccoli rape and toss in the oil. Add a generous amount of salt, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. Arrange in a bowl and sprinkle the top with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

If you have leftover the next day, sautè some mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, add the leftover broccoli rape and some cooked and drained pasta. Serve with parmesan cheese on top.