Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Simple Broccoli Rabe Soup: Breaking Winter's Back

According to my Farmer's Almanac, winter's back is broken on February 16th. I have a problem with that, because I am totally tired of the cold, spotty snow and general grayness we've had this winter NOW. I am officially  sick of winter. Either give us one good, deep, real snow, or just go away, Old Man Winter, and let us have spring.

Well, I'm sure that helped a lot. About as effective as trying to bail the ocean with a thimble. But I have other ways of keeping winter at bay, and yes, many of them involve food, chocolate or planes heading south. One of my favorites is a soup I took for granted as a child. Well, technically it isn't necessarily called a soup. It's one of the most comforting things I can think of to make a late winter day bearable: good greens, cooked in good stock with lots of garlic. Love in a bowl from an Italian grandma, I tell you. 

Greens are always one of the first things to pop up in the market at this time of year, because once February hits, it's already spring somewhere. So the greens are already starting to look good, not tired as they look in December. The broccoli rabe was very nice this week, tender not big and tough and woody, but if it isn't nice when you shop, just substitute some escarole or baby kale. Even spinach, just don't cook it so long. Look for greens that will cook to tender in less than 15 minutes; leave the braising greens like mature kale or collards for another dish.

If you have some homemade stock, some garlic, oil and your favorite greens, you are about 10 minutes from making the basic black dress of soups. You can dress it up innumerable ways. I like a dusting of Parmesan or Romano over the top, or a slice of toast (a crostini) grilled with some Gruyere on top afloat in the bowl, or even some small pasta like orzo, tubetini or pastene cooked in the soup. Leftover diced chicken or turkey, or tofu...all good. This soup hints of spring, and really will break winter's back.

This dish, basically greens cooked in broth, is only as good as your ingredients. If your broth isn't great, neither will your soup be great. If you use chicken broth, it should sing of chicken, if vegetable, it should be rich and robustly flavored. It should be utterly delicious served just as it is. Not a place to use up tired or worn out vegetables, sprouty garlic, or cheap boxed broth.

Italian greens in broth: Simple Broccoli Rabe soup

Simple Broccoli Rabe Soup

4 - 6 Servings


1T extra virgin olive oil
3 - 4 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
2-1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1 large bunch broccoli rabe, tough stems removed,  chopped 
Pinch dry oregano
Pinch or more of red pepper flakes
salt and fresh ground black pepper

Optional additions: 2 oz. small pasta like orzo or  pastene , croutons, slice bread  toasted and topped with cheese.

1. Heat the olive oil in a 4 quart or larger saucepan over medium-high heat. When it thins and ripples, add the garlic, and stir a minute or so until the garlic is coated in oil and fragrant.

2. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli rage, the oregano, and the red pepper flakes, bring back to a simmer, and cook about 10 minutes, or until the largest stems of the rabe are soft. Taste for salt and black pepper and season accordingly.

Note: if you want some sort of pasta in this, add to the broth just after the broccoli rabe and if it's the tiny stuff, it should be done when the rabe is cooked.

Roughly chopped broccoli rabe: looks almost springlike, huh?

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