Broccoli rabe season snuck up on us this year. Out of the blue, my mother-in-law called me at the bakery to say that she just drove by our secret stash of wild broccoli rabe and that they were ready to harvest. In fact, she even saw a few patches of yellow sprinkled throughout the field, which meant that some of the plants were just about ready to go to seed. At that point, the flavor drops and the toughness increases.
Ideally, one would want to harvest just before this point, so it was time to go!
That next day we had off, a few days after the phone call, Jill went with Brittany and our friend Kindra to the field to get wild broccoli rabe. They returned a few hours later with eight plastic grocery bags full of freshly picked broccoli rabe.
Now the hard part began. In order to preserve the wild bitter greens for future use, they needed to be cleaned, blanched in salted boiling water, and put into freezer bags. Paula took one bag, and grandmom took two. We went to the bakery to process our haul, because it’s certainly easier to clean them all in a professional kitchen.
The process was easy, but time consuming. The first thing that we did was to get a big pot of water on the fire, and while we prepared the greens, it would slowly come to a boil. We then went through each bag and filtered out all of the non-broccoli rabe pieces… weeds, wild onion greens, grass, etc. We also removed any yellow or wilted pieces of the greens. They don’t taste good, so we didn’t want to include those.
After the edible portions were separated, we proceeded to cut the greens into smallish, bite sized pieces. The thicker stalks were split in half (so that they would cook at about the same rate) and then everything (stalks, leaves, flower buds) was put into a bucket. Into the bucket went copious amounts of cold water to wash the dirt from the greens. We filled the bucket up until the greens were covered and then used our hands to plunge the greens into the water in the same manor that a washing machine washes your clothes. The greens were then scooped out by hand into a colander to drain. We didn’t want to pour the bucket into the colander, because the dirt would have simply fallen right back onto the broccoli rabe.
After the initial washing, the greens were still a little dirty, so we washed them a second time (dandelion greens need to be washed three, four or more times because they are always really dirty!). There was no reason to dry them in a salad spinner though, because they were just going to go right into the blanching water, which by this time had come to a nice rolling boil.
Into the churning salted water went handful upon handful of broccoli rabe. We wanted to pre-cook the greens until tender so that they could be frozen and finished for future use. After a few minutes of boiling, the water had turned a sort of army green color and the broccoli rabe was done. Using a long pair of tongs, we removed the greens and placed them into a deep pan to cool. This process was repeated several times, until all of our haul was completed. (Thank you Jill, Kindra, and Brittany for taking care of most of this process!)
After the greens had cooled to room temperature, we portioned them into quart sized freezer bags, labeled them with masking tape, and basked in the knowledge that we would have a whole year worth of free, wild, nutritious, local, and delicious broccoli rabe in the freezer!
So what to do with all of these yummy greens? That question inspired me to commit to a broccoli rabe filled lunch menu for family meal at the bakery this week. The first day, we got some Kaiser rolls from Donkey’s Place across the street and made sandwiches of fried onions, mozzarella cheese, and broccoli rabe. The next day, we had grandmom-style egg sandwiches with locally grown eggs, onions, and broccoli rabe, topped with thin slices of white cheddar cheese on crispy whole wheat bread. The following day, we had Puerto Rican pigeon peas over brown rice and broccoli rabe. On Wednesday we had burritos with brown rice, kidney beans, avocado, yogurt, and of course broccoli rabe all wrapped in whole grain tortillas. Thursday for lunch, we had whole-wheat rotini pasta tossed in a sauce of olive oil, onions, garlic, Serra Sausage, Pecorino cheese, and naturally, broccoli rabe. Friday, the broccoli rabe went on pizzas that we made at the bakery…
As you can see, broccoli rabe is very versatile and can be used in almost anything! And considering that this is the first fresh veggie that’s been available in our region (asparagus is starting to come up, but isn’t harvestable yet and dandelion is a bit more limited in its uses), we seriously loaded up. Perhaps after this week, we’ll tone down the consumption. But this is what local eating is all about… eating what’s in season because it’s fresh, tasty, nutritious, and in our case with the broccoli rabe, totally free!