No-one could cook up a pot of greens like Stefano’s grandma, or Nonnetta, as she was known to us.
Rapini, sometimes called broccoli rabe, or cime di rapa in italian, were her specialty. They were mildly bitter and perfectly seasoned from their sauté in olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper. Served with just the right amount of liquid, she had us sopping up the juices with pieces of bread and then asking for seconds.
In Italy, it is common to boil greens and then sauté them in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. Nonnetta’s secret was to add a spoonful or two of tomato sauce – just enough to add a touch of flavor and color.
Although a staple of southern United States cooking, sadly, greens are not as readily embraced here in the northern states. Yes, they smell a bit when boiling (Hi, come in. Sorry about the smell, we’re cooking greens), but the pungent smell is quickly forgotten in favor of their deeply satisfying, peppery taste.
Rapini are our favorite green, but we can’t always find them at our local farmer’s markets so we often use mustard greens or turnip greens instead. They are never quite as good as Nonnetta’s, but almost.
1 bunch of rapini, turnip greens or mustard greens
Crushed red pepper
2-3 spoonfuls sauce from whole, canned tomatoes
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Wash the greens and remove the thick parts of the stems. When the water boils, toss a handful of coarse salt into the pot, and add the greens. Boil until tender, approximately 8-10 minutes, and drain.
Sauté 2 tablespoons olive oil, two cloves of garlic diced into small pieces, and a bit of crushed red pepper in a skillet for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is golden brown. Add the greens and 2-3 spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature with good bread.