Tag Archives: broccoli raab

Broccoli Raab & Pecorino Bread Pudding

Bread puddings are an ingenious vehicle for stray bits of vegetables and cheese, stale bread, even excess steamed milk from your morning cappuccino. I don’t think I’ve ever made a bread pudding I didn’t like. The key is to taste the custard before adding the bread to ensure it is properly seasoned (in fact, season it more than you think is necessary, as the bread is neutral and requires additional seasoning). The vegetables should also be seasoned properly, so taste, taste, taste!

I prefer my bread puddings firm rather than wobbly, so I add plenty of eggs to bind the mixture properly. I also like lots of vegetables, and usually opt for greens like spinach, arugula, or broccoli raab. The vegetables should be cooked before being folded into the custard base, so they become a silky part of the whole rather than a distinct component.

Serve the bread pudding below with a simple green salad as a main course, and experiment with other vegetables if you’re inspired at the market. Just be sure to pair the cheese with the vegetable: Gruyere is lovely with mushrooms; Parmigiano with spinach; Scamorza with fennel… You get the idea.

Makes 1 large bread pudding (serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course)

For the broccoli raab:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 large bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (about 1 pound prior to trimming)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup water

For the bread puddings:

  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the roasting pan
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • ¼ pound day-old white sliced bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  • ¼ pound thickly sliced Pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice

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Make the broccoli raab: Preheat the oven to 375° (preferably set on convection).

Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a 12-inch sauté pan. Warm gently over medium heat until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli raab, season with the salt, and sauté 5 minutes, or until wilted. Add the water and continue to cook until the water evaporates and the raab is soft, about 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Make the bread pudding: Brush an 8-inch square roasting pan with olive oil.

Beat the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and ½ cup of the Pecorino in a large bowl with a whisk until aerated and some bubbles have formed in the mixture. The longer you beat, the lighter the bread pudding will be. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Add the bread and the sautéed raab. Mix gently with your hands so the bread soaks up some of the liquid, but do not overmix or the bread will disintegrate and lose its texture.

Spoon the mixture in the prepared roasting pan and dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Pecorino. Scatter the Pancetta over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set, golden-brown on top, and bubbling. Let rest 5 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve hot.

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Cornmeal-Crusted Focaccia with Spiced Broccoli Raab & Pecorino

Polenta, seldom eaten in southern Italy, is a staple in Calabria. It is cooked soft and topped with chickpeas, broccoli raab, or sausages and beans, as well as baked into savory pies and breads. Here I adapted a classic Calabrese recipe for a spiced cornmeal focaccia known as pitta di granturco and topped it with boiled broccoli raab, garlic, chilies and Pecorino to make a very tasty focaccia. I love it in generous wedges with a simple green salad for lunch, or served with grilled Italian sausage and sweet peppers for a hearty dinner.

You have to like the slightly bitter flavor of broccoli raab, and the rustic charm and crunch of a cornmeal dough, to enjoy this unusual focaccia; I love both, so it is one of my favorite ways to enjoy greens and homemade bread.

I find the best thing about cornmeal doughs is their pleasantly gritty texture and the way the grains sort of pop in your mouth, so I always buy stoneground cornmeal for best flavor and texture. Coarse Italian polenta works well too, as long as it is not an instant variety.

Because cornmeal has no gluten at all, there is a proportion of all-purpose flour in the dough; this ensures the focaccia won’t emerge as dense as a brick. The dough will feel a bit cakey when kneaded, and won’t rise dramatically in the oven, so don’t be alarmed. And remember to allow time for overnight rising of the dough in the refrigerator.

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer

For the dough:

  • ¾ cup stone-ground coarse cornmeal
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon warm (100°F) water, plus extra as needed

For the topping:

  • 1 bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed, washed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Make the dough: Place the cornmeal, flour, yeast, salt, fennel seeds, and cayenne in a food processor. Mix a few seconds to combine. With the motor running, add the olive oil, then pour in the water to make a soft dough that forms a ball around the blade. Add a little more water if the dough is dry or a touch of all-purpose flour if it is sticky. Process for 45 seconds. Lightly flour a bowl, and place the dough in it.

Shape into a rough ball, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight so the dough develops a deep, sweet, complex flavor.

A few hours before you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, place it on a very lightly floured counter, and knead it a few times. Alternately, knead it while it is still inside the bowl if that is easier for you. Reshape into a ball, return it to the bowl, and cover again.

One hour before baking, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 425°F (preferably set on convection bake).

Make the topping: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the raab and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the raab 5 minutes, or until it is bright green and tender, and drain. Cool under running water, drain again, and squeeze almost (but not completely) dry. The raab has to retain some of its natural moisture or the topping will be unpleasantly dry, but it shouldn’t be too moist, or the crust will be soggy rather than crispy.

Chop the raab a few times and place it in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, the chili, garlic, and Pecorino, and mix well. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

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Generously oil a 12-inch pizza pan. Place the dough in the oiled pizza pan.

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Using your hands, flatten the dough so it covers the bottom of the pan; it should be about 1/2-inch thick. Brush with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt.

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Scatter the raab topping all over the dough and spread it out evenly. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for for 30 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax). Remove the plastic wrap.

Bake on the baking stone in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown all over and crispy around the edges, spraying the oven floor with ¼ cup of water 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking.

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Brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and cut into wedges. Serve hot.

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Crispy Skin Branzino with Silky Broccoli Raab

I love branzino. It is absolutely my favorite fish. Its flavor is clean and sweet, its flesh moist and firm. I love it roasted whole, stuffed with a rosemary sprig, some lemon slices, and a few garlic cloves; filleted and baked in parchment paper, with a splash of white wine and a handful of fresh herbs; sauteed into a simple tomato sauce for pasta; or, best of all, crisped on both sides in a hot skillet with nothing more than a veil of olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

We eat crispy skin branzino at least once a week, sometimes flaking it into homemade corn tortillas for the best fish tacos imaginable, or simply drizzling it with lemon juice and olive oil on the plate.

Please don’t be intimidated at the thought of crisping branzino skin: it couldn’t be easier. You just need a hot nonstick skillet, a spatula, and 6 minutes to get dinner on the table.

Serves 2

For the branzino:

  • 2 branzino filets, skin on, scales and bones removed, rinsed and blotted dry
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the broccoli raab:

  • 1 large bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed, washed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • water as needed

For the sauce:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane or the small holes of a box grater

Make the branzino: Brush the branzino filets on both sides with the olive oil, and season on both sides with the salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the broccoli raab: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the broccoli raab and 1 tablespoon of the salt, and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and shock under cool water to stop the cooking, then gently squeeze dry with your hands. Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the garlic is aromatic, after about 1 minute, add the broccoli raab. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, or until the broccoli raab is very soft and silky, adding a bit of water if needed to keep the broccoli raab moist. Keep warm.

Make the sauce for the branzino:  Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside at room temperature until needed.

To serve:  Place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and heat for 2 minutes; do not allow the skillet to heat so long  that it begins to smoke though, as nonstick skillets should never get too hot or they let out toxic fumes.

Place the branzino filets in the hot skillet, skin side down, and press with a spatula. Cook 3 minutes, or until the skin is dark and crispy but not burned. Flip and cook the other side for 2 minutes, or until the fish is nearly done, pressing once with a spatula. Flip one more time so the filets are skin side down in the skillet and cook just until they crisp up again and the fish is completely cooked; it will no longer be translucent or pearly, and should be firm to the touch.

Spoon some of the sauce for the fish on the plate, and set the branzino filets on top of the sauce, skin side up; if you place the fish skin side down, the crisp texture will be lost. Pile the broccoli raab next to the fish and serve hot.

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