I love bitter vegetables, including broccoli rape which is called various things here in Italy: broccoletti, cima di rape and friarielli. It’s interesting to me that so many winter vegetables are bitter; I wonder if we need just those types of vitamins to help us through the cold months?
I also love corn. In every way you can fix it. Polenta is basically what we Americans call corn meal mush. Now I know that doesn’t sound as sexy as polenta, but it is the same thing.
Now, to me, one of the kitchen’s nicest marriages is polenta with broccoli rape. Such a wonderful balance of flavor and texture and a great filling meal that’s nutritious too!
Baked Polenta “Pizza”
A variation on polenta is this “pizza” as it’s called here. Cook the polenta as normal, but with a bit less water until it’s really thick and solid, then put the mass in a well oiled (olive oil) cake tin, drizzle with more olive oil and bake it in a medium oven until lovely and crispy on the outside. You then slice it as a cake and serve hot.
This is a traditional dish from many of the southern regions, Campania, Molise and Abruzzo. In Naples I’ve had it with the addition of finely chopped chicory. Often wild greens are added. Not traditional, but delicious is the addition of crispy pancetta bits.
This works well if you want to make polenta ahead of time as you can bake the pizza even a day later. I’d like to note that in the southern states of the USA, corn and bitter greens are pretty common combination as in the southern regions of Italy…it’s such a small world!
I like to cook vegetables so they retain their color, vitamins and flavor.
This is a delicious way you can cook spinach, kale, chicory swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
Wash and remove the tough stems from the broccoli rape. Let drip dry in a colander.
In the widest pan you have, very gently (low low heat) sauté some whole peeled garlic cloves and some whole dried chili peppers.
Watch and stir constantly. In about 5 minutes, the garlic will start to turn brown. When it’s nicely browned, but not dark brown as then the garlic becomes bitter, take out both the garlic and the peppers with a slotted spoon.
You now have an olive oil that is flavored. Not too garlicky or peppery, but just enough to add subtle flavor.
When the garlic cloves are brown like this, take them out of the pan
Add the broccoli rape and turn up the heat to medium high or high. Add a bit of salt and sauté, tossing now and then until the vegetable is wilted and tender. Basically it cooks in the water that remains from washing.
Serve hot with the hot crispy polenta cake.