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.
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!)
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