We just got through a crazy weekend, all right: first it was Hurricane Irene pelting the East Coast (hope everyone affected came out safe! My poor cousin CBC is still without power, for the second day in a row. . . looks like it will be another day or two until she’s operating as usual at home). On the opposite side of the continent, a massive number of ecstatic vegans participated in Vida Vegan Con, the inaugural vegan bloggers conference. Though I wasn’t there (already resolved to be at the next one!!), I still felt tapped into the electrical excitement via tweets and blog posts from vegan luminaries like Gena, JL, Vegan Cuts, Lisa, Christy, Megan, Eco Vegan Gal (who posted some remarkable roundups even though she didn’t attend, either) and probably a whole bunch more I’m forgetting to mention.
Last night, the HH and I capped off the weekend with a wedding (no, no, not ours–the daughter of my friend Eternal Optimist got married). 😉
With all that frenetic activity, I wanted a quick and easy dinner on Saturday. As I’ve mentioned before, I adore greens in all their guises. Give me a good raw kale salad (or two), some collard wraps or chard in a quizza and I’m happy. For some reason, though, I had never had much luck with broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) before this past weekend.
Years ago, one of my friends worked as a publicist for a large record company here in Toronto. His job was to manage several classical musicians, promote their work and fête them when they breezed through town (he was also the reason I got to attend the Junos–Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys–one year. I’ll never forget Alanis Morisette’s garbled acceptance speech (“Songwriter of the Year”) or seeing The Barenaked Ladies in person (this before their acrimonious breakup, of course). Thanks for that star-infused evening, Mr. PR!)
Anyway, Mr. PR lived in an Architectural Digest-worthy, designer-influenced, immaculate apartment near High Park. The place was a mélange of one-of-a-kind antiques flanked by modern art and kitsch. Cramped with gigantic antique mahogany armoirs and buffets, hand-knotted Persian rugs in shades of gold, ruby and onyx, and an L-shaped white leather sofa, it was the kind of room in which I was a little afraid to drink a glass of red wine. And yet, Mr. PR owned a dog. A very sweet, very gentle, very boisterous, very lovable dog, who roamed freely throughout the place. Oh, and also a very LARGE dog: an English Mastiff, whose name was Vita.
Yes, that’s right: Vita (named after Vita Sackville-West), which is just one letter away from “Vida,” as in “Vida Vegan.” Back to Vida Vegan! Coincidence? I think not!
Those were the halcyon days for the HH and me; we didn’t yet have a dog of our own (I know; it’s impossible to imagine a life without The Girls). Instead, we offered to dog-sit Vita while Mr. PR was out of town, for a hit of surrogate puppy parenting. Although she was perfectly prim and poised while in the house, the moment Vita’s paws hit the sidewalk, she morphed into a canine cyclone of jumping, lunging, panting, drooling, chasing after balls. That was the era when Ricky Martin’s pop hit, Living La Vida Loca seemed omnipresent on the airwaves, and the HH and I couldn’t resist revamping it slightly to reflect our experience with Vita:
She’ll make you put your clothes on and go walking in the rain
She’ll tug the leash and make you fall and cause excessive pain–Come on!
Living with Vita Loca!
We’d serenade each other with that chorus while driving to work, brushing our teeth, reading the New York Times over brunch, or, basically, any time we felt like a good guffaw. Months later, I ventured to share our little ditty with Mr. PR and sang a few lines to him. At first, he seemed perplexed; then he stared at me as if I’d just eaten a baby ferret. (Hmm. TMI, perhaps?)
In any case, Vida Vegan brought to mind Vita Loca, which brought to mind. . . broccoli rabe (you knew I’d get to it eventually, didn’t you?).
You see, broccoli rabe was Mr. PR’s favorite vegetable. Since I knew Mr. PR during the “Decade of the Dinner Party,” I often inquired about my guests’ taste preferences so I could cook up something they really liked. And Mr. PR really liked rapini.
Sad to say, I never did cook those bitter greens for him. In fact, I probably didn’t venture to make them at all until I was well into my 40s. On my first attempt, I overcooked them considerably and was left with a limp, military green blob of bitter stems devoid of any nutritional content. Thereafter, I habitually made sautéed broccoli rabe with olive oil and garlic, which is nice, but it does tend to lose its initial élan after eating it, say, 47 times in a row that way.
Last weekend, I came across an old recipe I’d bookmarked in the April, 2005 issue of Everyday Food [Martha Stewart’s former “everyday healthy” magazine]. Martha is always an inspiration (I bet she would have laughed at that song about Vita). I was in the mood for something cheesy (as in, “edible cheesy” and not “reworking-the-lyrics-of-a-tacky-pop-song-to make-them-even-more-cheesy” cheesy). The original recipe called for ricotta, and I knew instinctively that my almond feta would work perfectly in its stead. The dish cooks up very quickly–once the feta is ready, you can have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes–and it was truly one of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever shared.
Enveloped in a thick, velvety sauce, the broccoli rabe took on a whole new dimension, its gruff countenance softened by the almost sweet cream sauce and springy pasta. Even the HH loved it and conferred his stamp of approval (in other words, he scarfed down an entire plateful and then went for seconds).
I may not have made it to the conference, but our Vida Vegan here in the DDD household last weekend was pretty delicious nonetheless, thanks to this yummy pasta. And I hope to make it to the other Vida Vegan next time!
“Mum, we couldn’t imagine a life without you and Dad, either. You may be a little loco yourselves, but still, who else would hand-feed us baby carrots for dessert every night, and share their almond feta pasta with us, and throw the Frisbee for us? Oh, and by the way–why haven’t you written a song about me and Elsie yet?”
Creamy Pasta with Almond Feta and Broccoli Rabe (suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond)
adapted from Everyday Food, April 2005
You will be surprised that there’s no dairy in this smooth, velvety, cheesy sauce. If you like creamy cheeses like ricotta or feta, you’ll love this pasta. It’s also a great way to use a batch of almond feta.
1 small to medium bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped
about half a pound (8 oz/225 g) pasta of choice (I used rice rotini)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) chili flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
1 batch Almond Feta Cheese (omit the herb and oil topping; you can use it pre-baked if you’re in a hurry)
3/4-1 cup (180-240 ml) unsweetened almond or soy milk
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and allow to boil for one minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli rabe to a colander and return the water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain; return the pasta to the pot and keep warm (cover if necessary).
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large nonstick frypan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and stir for about a minute, until fragrant.
Add the drained broccoli rabe to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Crumble the cheese into the frypan and add the milk. Stir to create a creamy sauce (it’s nice if you can keep a few blobs of cheese intact, but don’t worry if it all melts into the sauce).
Scrape the saucy mixture into the pot with the pasta and toss well to coat the pasta. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen (defrost in fridge overnight, then add about 1/4 cup (60 ml) water and heat in a covered casserole at 350F/180C for about 25 minutes).
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Last Year at this Time: Musings on the IFBC 2010 (and gratuitous photo of Ricki at her Sweet Sixteen!)
Two Years Ago: Freeform Tomato Tart with”Goat Cheese” and Basil (ACDStage 2 and beyond; gluten-free).
Three Years Ago: Muhammara (ACD stage 3 and beyond; easily gluten-free)
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Hallie @ Daily Bites says
If all goes as planned, my kitchen remodel will be officially FINISHED (!!) by tomorrow! I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen and make some good “gourmet” type recipes again instead of the same-old, same-old crockpot meals, soups, salads, and stir-fries. I’m eager to give your Almond Feta a try! 🙂
Yay for the remodel! The feta is delicious–really worth the time it takes to make it. 🙂
I need to make this… dinner on saturday probably. 🙂 Thanks
It’s a great quick dinner! 🙂
Lindsay @CookVeganLover says
Wow that looks amazing!
Thanks, Lindsay! It made for a really yummy dinner. . . the cheese was so creamy and just a little bit tangy.
Megan @ go places! says
Looks so delicious – CREAMY! Definitely a texture I don’t get as much from vegan stuff. Bookmarking this!
Also: the dog. OMG. If you stopped posting food and words and anything else, and just put up doggy pics, I would still read. (Please don’t, though!)
Megan @ go places! says
Also, we talked about how much we wished you were there!! Gena & JL had such nice things to say to you. We will meet someday!
I wished I were there, too! And I had such a great time meeting both of them–yes, we will have to meet some day, too! (And weren’t you incredibly lucky to room with JL??) 😀
Aw, thanks, Megan! Of course you are also a dog lover, so totally understandable you’d feel that way. 😀 And yes, I found it really creamy, thick, rich. . . just a great coating for pasta in general! (Love that almond feta!).
Megan @ go places! says
*about you 🙂
And “to me,” too! 🙂
Ricki, this looks amazing! This may have to be dinner later this week…and the pup is adorable!
It would have been great to meet you at VVC this weekend, but I’m sure it will happen some day!
I’m hoping to be at the next one. 🙂 Glad you like the pasta (and do let me know what you think if you give it a try). And Chaser says, “woof!” 😉
Another one for my bookmarks!.. or rather pinterest boards! just started trying it.. lets see.. too many social networking options!
i have to try the almond feta.. that would go so well in sauces and salads! yumm!!
Hi Richa–I know what you mean about social networking options. I signed up for Pinterest, too, but haven’t had much time at all to use it. (Maybe I’ll have to drop something else first. . . ). 😉 The almond feta is wonderful with salads, yes, or dolloped on top of pasta or pizza. 🙂
Johanna GGG says
broccoli rabe is always a bit of a mystery to me – I am not good with bitter and don’t come across this vegetable – though maybe I am not looking – I like the idea of combining it with a sweet creamy cheese – much better than I like the idea of white sofas – I would definitely spill something on them
Funny, I never had a problem with the bitter greens and even like them (I love dandelion greens!). I don’t find broccoli rabe very bitter, but maybe that’s just me (another name for it is rapini–do you that over there?). And white sofas–totally agree!
Kristina @ spabettie says
this looks fantastic! (bookmarking!) a fun post to read, and connect the vita – vida – broccoli dots! 😉
I am still riding the high energy of vida vegan – it was such an amazing weekend, for sure! Spring 2013 – not to be missed!
Thanks so much! I found the Vida-Vita connection to be pretty funny myself. 😉 And the next VVC isn’t until Spring 2013? Wahhh! I think we need one EVERY year! But I am planning on being at the next one. 😀
JL goes Vegan says
Ricki- you MUST come to the next Vida Vegan Con! You would have loved it.
I even loved READING about it! 😉 I am planning on being there, for sure! 😀
This is the perfect excuse to try your almond feta recipe! Mmmm.
It’s a great nut cheese. While you eat the almond feta, I’ll be eating your dairy-free tzatziki! 😀
We’ll carpool to the next VVC! We missed you, talked about you, and DDD was even in one of the trivia questions. However, my time at VVC reminded me of how lucky we are in TO to have an amazing, active vegan community. I loved meeting vegans from all over the world (Australia, UK, etc.) but I wouldn’t give up the wonderful neighbours I have here. I’m so glad we can just plan a brunch anytime we like.
I love the carpool idea, Lisa–vegans on the road!! And I am honored to have been mentioned in a question (no one has told me what it was yet–the names of the Girls? What the 3 D’s stand for? The real-life name of the HH?? Do tell!!). I’d say yes, we’re very lucky here (and I do wish I lived closer to downtown). Which reminds me, brunch should be on the agenda soon! 🙂
I love the sound of this. I can’t believe I haven’t tried making my own cheese yet. The almond feta with the broccoli rabe sounds like a perfect combination.
I love that almond feta! It worked beautifully in the pasta–still creamy, yet melty enough to coat the noodles. Mmmm!
Cheryl Harris says
How did I miss this the 1st time around? this looks gorgous.