Fettuccini with Rapini (aka Broccoli Rabe), Garlic and Lemon Juice

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I love this dish! There is something about taking a bite of mildly bitter sautéed leafy greens, that at first taste says, Not sure about this, and then quickly turns to, Got to have another bite. The bitterness is surprisingly addictive.

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Such is the case when rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is sautéed with green onions, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil and then tossed with fettuccini, lemon juice, and parmesan.

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Rapini is a bitter leafy green found in most grocery stores in the produce section where other greens like escarole and curly endive are found. The leaves, stalks, and florets are all edible and have identical taste levels. When purchasing, look for bright green perky leaves, and florets that haven’t blossomed.

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I like to use freshly made fettuccini noodles with this dish when I can find them. Otherwise, these dried noodles work nicely.

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Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced
1 pound bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe), trimmed, peeled, and chopped into 2-inch sections
½ -1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
juice of one lemon, squeezed over cooked rapini
½-¾ pound package of fettucini noodles
grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Mise en Place:
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To prep garlic, flatten cloves with the flat side of a knife and slice into pieces. Do not mince, as garlic is easy to burn when chopped too finely.

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Prep the green onion by trimming the roots. Use a scissor to snip off shriveled or flat leaves as these will likely burn while sautéing.

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To prep rapini, wash the leaves under cool running water. Place stalks on a large cloth towel and pat dry.

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Trim base of stems. Use a pairing knife to peel the stringy, tough skin off of each stem, just as you would for broccoli spears. This will help the stalks cook as quickly as the florets tend to do when placed in a pot of boiling water.

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Next, take a stack of 3 or 4 trimmed rapini stems and chop them into 2-inch segments as shown in the picture below. Continue in this way until all the stems are chopped. If peeling the thin stems is going to be a deal breaker for making this dish, leave the skin on and cut the stems into smaller pieces so they will cook faster when blanched in the pot of boiling water.

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Instructions: 
To cook the rapini and pasta: Bring a pot of water with ½ tablespoon of salt to a boil. We’ll use the same pot of water to cook both the rapini and the pasta.

While waiting for the water to come to a boil, warm olive oil in a large six-quart heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté gently for about 4-5 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown as browning will cause it to become bitter. Watch carefully and stir frequently. Stir in red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

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When the water in the pot comes to a boil, blanch the rapini. To do this, add the rapini and stir. The pile of leaves will quickly collapse into the water as you stir them down.

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As soon as the water returns to a boil, set a timer for one minute and allow the rapini to simmer. After one minute, use a serrated spoon to immediately remove the leaves from the hot water and place in a small bowl. This is called blanching. You do not want to overcook the leaves and florets. We are trying to keep the florets intact and the leaves bright green. Also, save the pot of water to use to cook the fettuccini.

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Use tongs to lift the rapini out of the small amount of water that has collected in the bottom of the bowl, and add it to the onions and garlic in the sauté pan. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, for about one minute, to meld the flavors of the vegetables.

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Bring the pot of water (now full of rapini “liquor”) back to a boil and use it to cook the fettucini. It typically takes only about three minutes to cook the noodles. Read the directions on the package. There is nothing worse in Italian cooking than overcooked, waterlogged pasta. Drain noodles in a colander.

Mix the pasta and vegetables and squeeze the juice of one lemon over all of it. Stir gently.

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Sprinkle fettuccini with lots of Reggiano parmesan before serving.

Technique Tip:

Two things to know about grating cheese: let the cheese come to room temperature before grating, and never hold the cheese with your bare hands because in doing so you might encourage mold to grow on the cheese. Save the cheese rinds in the freezer for soups.

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If you would like to turn this into a more filling meal, add cannellini beans and grilled Italian sausage or roasted chicken to this dish.

Related Posts:
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Italian Pasta and Bean Soup, aka Pasta e Fagioli
Roasted Ratatouille

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup (aka Caldo Verde)

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If I were to play a word-association game with my brothers about the elderly babysitters we had growing up in the Sixties in Bay View, our beloved, bucolic coastal neighborhood in Massachusetts, it would go like this:

Sting (sic) Bean Casserole”: Mrs. DeMers
She was elderly, gentle, and lived across the road from us. Her voice was thin and wispy just like she.

“Mulligan Stew”: Mrs. Townsend
She and Mr. Towsend were retired, very Irish, and lived next door. It seemed like she always had a pot of mulligan stew simmering on the stove. Mulligan stew is a beef and vegetable stew similar to burgoo. If we got locked out of the house, the Townsends had the spare key.

“Kale Soup”: Mrs. Lombard
Mrs. Lombard was Portuguese, retired, and had buried three husbands by the time she came to live with us as a housekeeper and babysitter. She stayed with us on weekdays and went to her own home on weekends.

She arrived at our house on the heels of many promising live-in sitters who lasted only a few days. Apparently, five children were a lot to manage. Not so for Mrs. Lombard. She drove up our driveway in her silver-green 1953 Chrysler New Yorker land yacht with her strong, solid build and pinned-up long dark hair, fully confident in her ability to wrangle up and care for our large family.

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Mrs. Lombard was tough and her unfiltered comments to us kids and our friends were legendary. For example, my brothers’ socks were so dirty they “stood up by themselves,” and I had “male nails,” short and wide fingernails that would “always be that way.” Sadly, she was right about that. She was our Mrs. Doubtfire. She kept us in line and took care of our hard-working mother, too. The last time I saw her was at my wedding. She was in her nineties. It was lovely to be in her presence, to hear her voice again, and to know she was still full of vim and vigor.

The only meal I remember Mrs. Lombard ever making for us was kale soup, also known as caldo verde (green broth). I can still see the tall Revere soup pot on the stove filled to the brim with knobs of white potatoes bobbing in and out of a sea of dark-green kale. The broth was tinged with orange from the juice of the linguica sausage. I have worked for years to recreate this beautiful, tasty soup and finally figured it out by reading through many versions of it in my mother’s vintage collection of plastic spiral-bound community cookbooks from that geographical area and time period.

Kale Soup

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A few words about ingredients:

The key ingredient in kale soup is a smoke-cured Portuguese sausage called Linguica (lin-gwee-sah). Linguica is made with pork and paprika, garlic, pepper, and sometimes cinnamon, coriander or cumin. There is another Portuguese sausage that is very similar called chouriço (not the same as chorizo, a Mexican sausage). In the absence of linguica, I would use either chouriço or andouille. Or, and I have done this before, use a spicy Italian sausage and make it an Italian Kale Soup.

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I suggest using unsalted chicken broth instead of a salted broth. The linguica brings plenty of saltiness of its own. Too much salt can quickly make this soup go from tasting delicious to tasting like a briny bath of sea water. Carefully add salt to taste.

If you are using a fresh bunch of kale, prepare it the same way I prepped the collards for this recipe only cut the logs of kale into two-inch wide slices. I would not use young leaves of kale as they will disintegrate too quickly when cooked. Some people prefer their caldo verde with collards. That works just as well. Occasionally, I add a half cup of chopped cilantro or parsley to the soup during the last minute of cooking, for more flavor and to make the broth greener.

Lastly, many cooks from our area of the southeastern coast of Massachusetts add a pound of lima beans to the soup. I enjoy that, as well, but I’ve come to prefer the simple and pure flavor of just the kale, potatoes and sausage.

Yield: 4 quarts

Ingredients:
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⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguica smoked sausage, sliced (sold locally at Publix)
1 medium onion (2 cups or ½ pound), peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5 cups or 2 pounds), unpeeled
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
4 cups hot water
1 pound kale, chopped into 2-inch pieces (could substitute collards)
½ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped (optional)

Mise en Place:

Rinse and dry linguica sausages. Slice into bite-sized pieces.
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Prep onions and garlic as described and set aside. Prep potatoes into bite-sized chunks and set aside. Gold potatoes hold their shape better than white potatoes and have a nice buttery taste, so I suggest using them.

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Instructions:

Coat bottom of a six-quart sauté pan with olive oil. Add linguica to warmed oil and sauté for about three minutes on medium-high heat. Avoid overcooking the linguica which makes it leathery and tasteless.

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Use a serrated spoon to remove sausage into a small bowl. Set aside meat.

Add onions and garlic into the linguica flavored oil that remains. Sauté for five minutes over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent.

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Add the potatoes, broth, salt, and crushed red pepper. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for ten minutes.

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Remove 1 cup of potatoes and 1 cup of broth from the pan and put them in a food processor. Purée for about 15 seconds until mixture is smooth. Set aside.

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Add four cups of hot water to the potatoes in the sauté pan and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, add about half the kale to the pan. Stir it down. As the kale collapses, continuing adding more kale until it all fits in the pan. Add the puréed potatoes and the linguica and stir everything together.

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Simmer for about 10 minutes on low heat. The soup will taste equally delicious the next day. I’ve never tried freezing it.

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Serve with a nice crusty bread.

Other great soups:
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
Sick Soup, Sometimes Known as Snow Day Soup
Kelly’s Duck Stew
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Cooking Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag

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I had no idea you could do this.

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Last week, I visited my friend, Nicole Maynard, author of a seductive new blog called, Our Year of Eating Local.  Nicole is a wife and the mother of two children. Together, their family of four is all in on a journey of eating locally sourced food every other week for one year. Her goals are “to raise awareness of the impact of our food choices on the environment, to better support local farmers and makers, and in so doing, to heal our planet.” She defines local as being within a 100-mile radius of 37215.

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While I sipped a cup of coffee at her kitchen table, Nicole prepared locally grown popcorn in the microwave. I was in the middle of asking her where she had sourced the popcorn when she opened a BROWN PAPER BAG full of popcorn, poured it into a serving bowl, and placed it on the table. I interrupted her mid-sentence: “Wait a sec. Did you just cook popcorn in a lunch bag?” I was incredulous.

“Yes.”

“Did you use oil?”

“No.”

So, no special type of non-flammable paper bag, no oil in the bag to make the corn pop, and no additives to season, improve the color or preserve the popcorn. As if to add an exclamation point to my surprise, Nicole nonchalantly drizzled a light California olive oil over it and a little salt. It was perfectly prepared popcorn, simply made, and at a fraction of the cost of store-bought microwave popcorn bags.

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I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up lunch bags.

How to cook popcorn in a brown paper bag.

Yield: 3½-4 cups popped corn (per 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce of corn)

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons popcorn kernels
1 brown paper lunch bag

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Instructions:

Place kernels in a paper bag. Fold bag top down three or four times. Do not use a staple. I recommend not using any oil, either; the kernels will pop perfectly well without it.

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Place bag upright in the microwave and use the “Time Cook” button to enter 1:50 seconds. This is the amount of time it takes to cook 2 tablespoons of popcorn in my microwave. Every microwave machine’s wattage is different so you may need to experiment with the cook time on yours.

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When you notice a slowdown of kernels popping, take the bag out. Don’t try to cook every last kernel or you will likely end up with a clump of muddy-colored, smoldering popped corn in the center of the bag. If it gets to this point, it might be best to toss the bag out, start over and cook for 15 seconds less the next time.

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You could add a little mild olive oil or melted butter and salt to the bag, shake it up, and have a “to go” single-serving snack. I tried the California extra virgin olive oil recommended by Nicole and liked it on the popcorn. It was much lighter in flavor than the Spanish olive oils I typically use.

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What Makes Corn Pop?

Popcorn kernels are seeds, and as seeds, each kernel has both water and carbohydrates in the form of starch to supply the seed with the energy needed to germinate. As the kernel heats up, the water turns to steam and the starch into a gelatinous consistency. As the temperature and pressure in the kernel rise further, the hull ruptures, the kernel explodes, the starch goo inflates, pours out, and expands like a balloon. The puffed-up goo retains its fluffy shape as it cools and you get popped corn.

Not all varieties of corn will pop. For most varieties, the outside shell is too thick. If you want to grow corn that will pop, make sure you buy “popcorn” seeds.

Meanwhile, Nicole and I did a little bartering during our visit. I gave her a bottle of locally made sorghum syrup (Cerulean, KY, 90 miles away) and she gave me a few bars of her homemade hand soap.

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Posts related to locally grown food:
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat
Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup
Growing Sweet Potatoes at Delvin Farms

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.