Spring Radishes

rabe-pasta

Give this post a quick once over and you’ll probably notice that despite its title, it’s not really about radishes. Instead, at least on the surface, (and to the deep consternation of the Google search algorithm I’m sure) it’s about broccoli rabe and a cool pasta recipe. But, it’s not really about broccoli rabe either. It’s really about surrender.

For a while now, radishes and I have been fighting. Last week we harvested the first of our season and they were fantastic; the best I’d ever had. They were easily good enough to cloud my reason. Maybe once or twice a year I eat something really memorable, something that changes how I think about food. These radishes fit that bill. They were fresh and yummy and satisfying, like none I’d ever had before. They were so good, I fell instantly and deeply in love with home-grown radishes. But as is often the case with impetuous love, it’s brought nothing but trouble.

rabe-garden

It began in a particularly damp and gungy corner of my sub-conscious where I decided I’d rather possess (eat) the radishes than sell them.  As a result, I sent them to market with an absurdly high price. Of course, just as my grungy sub-conscious had intended, we brought most of them home. They filled my fridge for a week and on some level I’m sure I was thrilled. Then the real trouble began. Over the next week, I nibbled radishes. I pickled them. I ate them on salad. And I tried and tried to post about them. But it just wasn’t happening. Nothing I tried was working. The pictures were bad. The text was worse. Radishes just wouldn’t give me a break. I fought it for more than a week before giving in and changing course. And it was there, awash in the calming waves of surrender, that I found broccoli rabe.

rabe-light

Broccoli rabe (aka: rapini) is a tender, mild tasting green that’s at it’s best in the spring. While it does sometimes produce an inner floret, it’s not very similar to broccoli. It’s much closer to mustard or dandelion greens. We grow broccoli rabe in 2-inch soil blocks and at between 10 and 14 days we transplant on a 6×6 inch grid. Generally, we get 20-ish retail bags from a 4-foot bed.

rabe-quad

Traditionally, broccoli rabe is sauteed. It’s quick and easy to cook that way and is usually done in 5-7 minutes. At the store (and in many restaurants), we blanch the rabe for a minute or so and then shock it in ice water before sauteing. This locks the color and keeps everything a nice, bright green until the end. When cooking it with pasta, I blanch in the same water used to cook the noodles. I just dip a spider or strainer full of rabe into the boiling water while the pasta is cooking.

radish-2

Back to the whole radish/surrender thing: As the season progresses, chastened by my radish experience, I’m learning more and more that success is a matter of degrees and largely a function of surrender. Gardens, market gardens especially, are not about what one wishes to do but instead about what one is able to get done. I think there will always be a deep ravine between those two poles.

Last week I was in the field of a local grower I admire a lot. Every week he comes to  market with abundant quantities  of the best looking produce I’ve ever seen. For years I’ve been in awe…. Then I went to his farm. It’s only the end of May but he is already knee deep in weeds. I was shocked. How could he produce so much quality from such shabby environs? For a long time I didn’t get it. But now, after losing out to my radishes, I understand him a little better. He didn’t want to give in to the weeds. But, just like the rest of us, he’s doing the very best he can. He’s just had to concede a few things, like the weeds, to keep producing copious quantities of killer food.

It’s not always going to be smooth. I sure have a lot to learn.

Orecchiette with Rapini, Chili and Lemon

A great introduction to broccoli rabe

ingredients

  • 1-2 lbs broccoli rabe with tough stems cut away
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3-4 chili pods
  • 1 lb Orecchiette pasta
  • 1/4 T Dry Oregano
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemons
  • Salt
  • Pepper

method

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pan for the pasta. Add pasta and boil for 10-12 minutes. Using a spider or strainer, blanch broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 minutes. remove rabe to an ice bath to lock a bright color.
Meanwhile, add oil to a large sauté pan. Add shallot and cook until it becomes slightly translucent. Add garlic and cook until it becomes aromatic. Add Chili pods and cook until they lighten in color. Cook entire mixture for 2-3 minutes until garlic begins to brown. When garlic is done, add broccoli rabe to saute pan, stir and cook for 5-7 minutes until everything is tender.
Fish pasta out of water with a spider and add to the saute pan. Stir, adding oregano, and the juice and zest from two lemons. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with parm or pecorino on the table.

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