I’ve been walking this fine line between total irreverence and over-seriousness, lately, when I sit down to write. I am living my own special brand of crazy, admonishing myself, “It’s just an EGG, Sarah.” Case in point: I just backspaced an entire draft of this post that referenced and quoted a political philosophy book of mine from college. (I’m feeling a special affection for the hungry little blinking cursor that ate up those words.)Someone asked me the other day, “Why food?” I think they meant it in a nice, curious way, but of course I took it as a bit of an affront, translated as “Sometimes you’re not really writing about a recipe, so why do you pretend like you are?” or, even worse (my insecurities tell me), “This is inane. It’s just food.”
It took time to get over my initial defensiveness, much less to formulate an answer, but I think I have something now. Maybe a rough draft, but something:
I write about food because it has proven an extraordinary lens through which to view relationships and economy and family and dirt and nourishment and hunger.
There will be a cake, next time, I promise you, or maybe a very buttery scone. I don’t want you all starting to think this is some kind of health food blog, some window into the world of that odd woman in the cubicle next to you who eats, three days in a row, for lunch: first, a wedge of cabbage; second, a tart (that’s promisingly normal, until you realize it’s made out of KALE); and then third, Isweartogod, she’s eating a bunch of broccoli rabe. That’s not me, I promise. Especially in January, when I mount rebellion.
Rebellion, that is, against the whole restrictive diet-y, New-Years-y slow march to your doom (I am being possibly overdramatic here) when you eat fastidiously and sparingly until you, like a junkie finally tapping into a vein, consume an entire quart of ice cream from the corner drugstore. This happened recently to a friend of mine, and, although like all of us, I struggle with a lot of things, I guess I’m lucky because that particular quandary is not one of them. I really like all these cruciferous green leafy things, so much so that I eat them voluntarily and frequently, not just because it’s January 25th.
In any case, it is very difficult to think of something as luscious, something as slicked down with smoke and tang and spice as this rapini, to be any sort of sacrifice. With the cold snap that descended on much of the U.S. last week, I found myself paging through Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, one of those books that is much-lauded and for darn good reason. Her treatment of vegetables is especially exciting, and inspired this braised rapini. Of all greens, rapini is a bit difficult to love, very astringent with sometimes tough stems, but this recipe coddles those qualities into cooperation. Good by itself, the dish is possibly further improved if you throw an egg onto your still hot, harissa-and-lemon skillet, fry it up, and slide it on top of the rapini.
Braised rapini with harissa & preserved lemon
Inspired by techniques in Molly Stevens’ book, All About Braising
- 1 bunch rapini/broccoli rabe (my bunch was about 20 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon prepared harissa (storebought, or make your own)
- 1 cup water
- 1 or 2 wedges of preserved lemon, thinly sliced lengthwise
- Coarse salt and pepper
- Trim rapini of any tough or dry stem ends, and rinse in thoroughly. Don’t worry about any water still clinging to the rapini after rinsing; it does not have to be totally dry.
- In a thick bottomed skillet or dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the rapini. Use tongs to toss and coat in the oil.
- After a 4-5 minutes, the rapini should start to wilt, brown in spots, and cook down. Add the garlic and continue to saute, tossing or stirring occasionally, another 1-2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
- Add the harissa and toss to distribute. Then, add the water. Bring the pot to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the thickest parts of the rapini stems are very tender and easily pierced with a knife. In the final several minutes of cooking, add the slices of preserved lemon, tossing to incorporate them in the cooking liquid.
- If you find that the water has boiled away and the rapini has not yet finished cooking to desired tenderness, you may need to add more.
- Taste for salt and pepper and season, if necessary, although your preserved lemons and harissa may well be salty enough to carry the dish. Remove the rapini from the heat and transfer to a platter or plates. If you wish to serve it with a fried egg, use the same skillet in which you braised the rapini, to soak up any last bits of harissa-lemon-oil.
- Serve immediately.