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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.

 

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.

Field Of Greens

Field of Greens

Readers of this blog (or fellow foragers) may recognize the wild greens growing in the field above. I’ve written about them (with recipes) here and here. It’s something any self-respecting Italian knows about. My parents taught us to forage for them when we were kids, and they have a flavor similar to broccoli rape. But they’re even better — and they’re free for the taking!!
Typically, these greens grow sparsely in fields and along roadsides and it takes a while to find enough to make a meal. But there’s a bonanza growing in a field near me,  as my late husband discovered a few years ago at this time of year. They’re ready for the picking right now — a couple of weeks earlier than usual — so I hightailed it out there and came home with three bags full to put in the freezer.  Here’s what they look like close up:
 Search the fields and along roads near where you live for these greens called Winter Cress, also referred to as wild mustard greens. Pick the ones that have tight buds, not the ones with the yellow flowers. When they’re in full bloom, they provide beautiful landscapes (especially in Italy and along the Southern California coastline), but they’re bitter and tough once the flowers emerge.

 

You can saute them in a little olive oil to retain all the nutrients, or you can blanch them first, then drain them, and proceed to saute them in a little olive oil, garlic and red pepper. The blanching takes away some of the bitter flavor but still leaves a lot of vitamins. In order to store them in the freezer, blanching is necessary. I boil water in a couple of giant canning pots, and I place a huge bunch into each pot, stirring it around for a couple of minutes. Drain the greens into a colander, then quickly transfer the greens to a bowl of cold water to bring down the temperature. Squeeze the greens to remove excess water, making little bunches to put into plastic bags. Repeat the process, refreshing the boiling after using it twice, otherwise you won’t get the harshest bitterness out of the greens. (Trust me, they’ll still have some bitterness even with the blanching.)
Place the greens in plastic freezer bags, in portions of two, four or whatever you like. Then store in the deep freeze and you’ll have them all winter long.
I still had a few bags from last spring, so I defrosted them and made this for dinner a few nights ago – beans and greens – perfect for any day, but especially for a Friday during Lent. Take note of the fork in the dish – it’s more than 40 years old and is the work of my grandfather. I have a couple of them that he “shaped” at my house when he would come to visit. He had a penchant for bending the tines of forks, maybe to get more in his mouth. But you know what? I have found them to be extremely useful in smashing beans and other foods, and stirring items in a saute pan. Go Grandpop!

Here’s the recipe:

Beans And Greens


printable recipe here

1 can cannellini beans- about a 13-ounce can (or whatever kind of beans you like)
1 bunch of wild greens
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste
a few shakes of red pepper
water, as needed

If the greens have been frozen, thaw them. If they’re fresh, blanch for a couple of minutes and drain. Or use them without blanching if you like your greens really bitter. Then pour some of the olive oil in a pan and saute the onions until limp. Add the garlic and soften them too. Toss in the beans and smash them partially with a fork. Add the greens to the beans, the salt, the red pepper and a little water to help everything blend together. Taste for seasoning, then cook for a few minutes to meld the flavors together. Serve with crusty bread. Wine optional.

Foraging For Wild Greens

Foraging For Wild Greens

This is my 100th post, and while I had planned to write a long, personal story and recipe to note the event, I’ll keep it for later because I want you to go out into the fields this week and look for these greens — if you’re lucky enough to live where they grow. In the Northeast U.S., they are perfect for picking for only a few more days. Right now they’re so tender, you could eat them raw.

This lovely bouquet of wild greens belongs to a member of the cruciferae, or mustard family, the same family as broccoli rape and arugula and many other vegetables. In fact they taste a lot like broccoli rape. They’re also known as winter cress, but the botanic name is barbarea vulgaris or barbarea verna. If you wait much longer, they’ll be in flower and too bitter to eat.

 

Here’s a photo I took in Italy last June of a field of wild mustard greens in full bloom.

In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons noted how the first sign of spring would be not the robins on the lawn, but the Italians who would swarm out from town to gather winter cress from fields and ditches. Here are a few lines from the book, originally published in 1962:

“The suburban dweller seldom bothers to identify the plant which the immigrants are so eagerly collecting. Such knowledge is strictly for squares. He is satisfied to refer to it merely as “some weed the Italians eat.” We have come to a poor pass when we think that allowing ourselves to be bilked because of our own ignorance contributes to our status. And still we think we have a mission to teach the rest of the world “the American way.” Heaven forbid this kind of thinking. We do have some things to teach, but we also have many things to learn from other cultures. Unless we realize that cultural exchange is a two-way street, we shall fail, and much of the ancient and precious wisdom now residing in the simple peoples of the world will be lost.”

Ponder that thought for a while.

My husband discovered a field not far from our home where these greens are as prolific as weeds. We set out on Saturday for our foraging expedition and came home loaded with bags and bags of them. There’s nothing like getting something for free. Especially when it’s nutritious, healthy and abundantly growing in fallow fields.

A pretty ladybug found its way into this bag along with the mustard greens.

We were overflowing with mustard greens. We gave some to friends, others I blanched and put in the freezer. Some we ate very simply by boiling, then draining and tossing them in some olive oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. On Sunday I went a little fancier, adapting a recipe that Mark Bittman posted in the New York Times last week. The recipe uses broccoli rape (sometimes spelled broccoli rabe) instead of the wild greens and it could be adapted for many different vegetables. But the wild mustard greens really made it special. We were licking the bowl to extract every ounce of goodness.

Spaghetti with Mustard Greens, Garlic and Bread Crumbs

For two people:

1/3 pound spaghetti

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade
a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes, or to taste
wild mustard greens, a couple of large handfuls, or about 1/2 pound
salt, freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Put 1/8 cup of olive oil into a large skillet over medium-low heat. When oil is warm, cook garlic just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add bread crumbs and red pepper flakes and cook until bread crumbs are golden. This will take about five minutes or so. Remove and set aside.
2. Cook mustard greens in boiling water until soft, about five minutes. Drain well.
Bittman tells you to cook the pasta in the same water, but I would not recommend doing this with the wild greens, since the bitterness remains in the water.
3. Boil the pasta in salted water in another pot.
4. Meanwhile, add the remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil to a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mustard greens and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and bread crumb mixture and mix well.
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a little of the water. Toss pasta in the skillet with the mustard greens. If necessary, add a little of the pasta water. Adjust seasonings and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.