Strascinata is a two-step method for the classic preparation of broccoli rabe aka rape, cime di rape, rapini, friarielli, broccoli, and broccoletti. Edible parts of these cruciferous vegetables are the leaves, buds, and stems or stalks, so select a bunch with tight, bright green heads, firm ruffled leaves, and slender firm stems or stalks that are not dry or curled. Avoid any with pretty yellow flowers or yellowing buds or leaves, a sign of maturity and toughness. If the stems or stalks are thick, peel them with a vegetable peeler just like mature asparagus. Chicory, dandelion, and other sturdy greens are wonderful when prepared in this cooking style, too.
Strascinare, V. trascinare: meaning to drag, to pull along.
Cook the vegetables, then "drag" them through olive oil sauce, and serve.
The first step is cooking the greens to tenderize them and remove some bitterness. Think spaghetti. Most Italian chefs boil the greens just like boiling spaghetti. They cook them to a similar degree, too, ranging from al dente, remaining firm and brighter green, to soft and limp, with a subdued green color. Drain, leaving a light coating of water so they do not absorb the oil sauce but rather are lightly coated with it. (If you prefer steaming them, save some cooking water. Although steamed broccoli rabe usually has enough water coating the surface, if not, pour on a few spoonsful.) Immediately proceed with the second step of sauteing them in the olive oil sauce to finish this dish.
Flavoring: Garlic, salt, and pepper are classic flavorings for these greens. Garlic is not browned because it turns bitter and the greens already possess a mild bitter flavor. Whole large garlic cloves are slightly crushed releasing their juices into the olive oil. Ground black pepper may be used, but most popular are chili peppers that pack a punch and balance with the garlic. Some chefs sprinkle ground cayenne pepper over, but I prefer whole chili peppers because they are just as potent and easy to locate and remove. Add grated sharp, salty or sweet, cheese in the final toss for a flavor twist.
Traditionally, strascinata-style greens adapt well to many types of dishes, served hot, warm, or room temperature. They are classic as part of an antipasti platter, as topping for bruschetta or crostini, or in grain-based salads. Layer a grilled cheese sandwich or stuff a crunchy ciabatta roll with them. Top pizza, focaccia, or flatbreads. They bring out the best flavors in juicy steaks, chops, and sausages, whole roasted bass or snapper, and tender meatloaf. As a condiment, these greens are savory deliciousness when sauteed into a sauce with shrimp, tomatoes, and olives topping farro or other grains. Chop strascinata greens and toss with cooked potatoes or 1 pound (454 g) of pasta, such as orecchiette or cavatelli. Garnish with toasted breadcrumbs or croutons.
An Italian favorite, this classic recipe pairs broccoli rabe with an olive oil sauce infused with garlic and chili peppers.
4 servings. Cooking time is 15 minutes.
Broccoli Rabe Strascinata:
1 medium bunch (1 1/4 pounds or 570 g) broccoli rabe
3 to 4 tablespoons (44 to 60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 peeled large garlic cloves or to taste, slightly crushed
4 small long hot dried chili peppers or to taste, optional
Salt to taste
Ground cayenne red pepper to taste, optional
Ground black pepper to taste, optional
Grated aged hard or semi-hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Pecorino, Ricotta Salata, or Caciocavallo
Breadcrumbs: Lightly toasted breadcrumbs are a typical topping for many dishes. They substitute for a grated cheese topping or can be added with the cheese.
Croutons: Lightly toast or saute in garlic-infused oil.
Preparing the Broccoli Rabe: Trim off tough ends from the stems, then discard the ends. Leave whole or cut into lengths you prefer. Rinse under cool running water and drain. Trimming reduces a 1 1/4-pounds (570 g) bunch to 1-pound (454 g) that serves 4 as whole stems with leaves and buds or about 4 cups (947 volume) chopped.
Preparing the Olive Oil Sauce: Mix the garlic cloves, and dried chili peppers if using, into the olive oil to infuse for 30 to 60 minutes prior to heating.
1. The First Cooking: Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Immerse the broccoli rabe in the water. (Or steam.) Undercook it so it remains slightly firm showing a little resistance when pierced with a fork, and retains a bright green color. Remove from the heat. Immediately proceed cooking with the second step.
Advance Preparation: Or undercook the broccoli rabe to very firm al dente, drain. Immediately plunge into a bowl of lightly salted ice water, or run cold water over the rabe to stop cooking, drain. At this point, the broccoli rabe may be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days before finishing.
2. The Second Cooking: If the cooked broccoli rabe becomes dry with no water clinging to its surface, add a few spoonfuls of its cooking water to the pan. It needs to be coated with a thin layer of water to prevent the rabe from absorbing oil during the second cooking.
In a non-stick pan, warm the infused oil over low heat for several seconds until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Increase the heat to high. After a few seconds, add the cooked broccoli rabe, it should sizzle when added to the oil sauce. Season to taste with salt, and ground cayenne or black pepper if using. Stir until it is coated with the oil and glistens, and is hot to the touch, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove or leave in the garlic cloves and whole chili peppers. (If adding grated cheese or croutons, add now, toss well. ) Remove from the heat. If garnishing with breadcrumbs, sprinkle them over the broccoli rabe strascinata just before serving, so they remain crisp. Enjoy.