Friday, November 5, 2010

CSA 24: Broccoli Rabe

The great thing about the CSA is the most basic fact: seasonal, farm fresh, organic produce is just better. It looks better, it lasts longer and it just tastes so good.

People ask me all the time about produce. They hear I'm studying nutrition, and work in a nutritional store, and belong to a CSA and they ask me all sorts of nutrition questions. Which I don't mind at all, I enjoy talking about the value of food.

One of the most common questions is whether canned or frozen vegetables are "good". It’s a weird question. On the most basic level, yes of course vegetables are good for you. Please always know that: vegetables = good for you. Are canned or frozen vegetables the best? Well that's a different question, and too narrow. So really the question should be: what’s the spectrum of vegetables and where does each type land on that spectrum?

Personally I set the spectrum starting with worst: least nutritious and least delicious, to the best: most nutritious and most delicious. Roughly speaking I'd say in terms of taste and healthfulness, completely dried vegetables, such as one might find in a box of some sort of dinner mix, are the worst - hardly vegetables at all really. And in-season, local, fresh, organic is the very, very best. But there's a whole spectrum between those extremes.

Between frozen and canned, frozen is somewhat better simply because canned usually has added salt and cans might possibly leach cancerous chemicals into your foods through their plastic lining (although frozen veggies come in either plastic bags or plastic lined boxes, so perhaps that danger is spread between both). But still canned vegetables are better then no vegetables or overly processed vegetables. Both sources in many cases are more healthful then their "fresh" grocery store counterparts because frozen and canned vegetables are more likely to be vine ripened, as opposed to picked before their prime and artificially forced to ripen in the backs of darkened trucks.

Lately, it is harvest season after all, I've gotten lots and lots of greens. Chard, kale, collards, dandelion, arugula, mixed lettuces, herbs and of course carrot greens, turnip greens and beet greens: you name it, if it grows in New York, I got it. And this of course in addition to tons of tubers, gobs of gourds and plenty of fruiting veggies, like bell peppers and stuff I don't have a category for (what are leeks and fennel? Stalk vegetables? Whatever they are, I got 'em). Unable to eat everything fresh I have the choice to give them away, throw them out or store them for leaner months. I try to not throw them out (although to be honest I refuse to feel guilt if the carrot greens wilt and get discarded), so I'm left with give or store - I do both.

Several sources all agreed the best way to store greens is to blanche and freeze them. So I boiled a large pot of water and dropped in a huge pile of roughly chopped collards and kale. I let them cook for about 1 minute and then drained them and rinsed with cold water. I let them drain for about an hour and then stuffed them in freezer containers. In a few months I bet I'll be happy I did!

But I can't store all my veggies - a girl's gotta eat dinner today too! And so I come full circle on my point about fresh, seasonal, local produce being the best. Stemming, cleaning, chopping, boiling - I was exhausted from cooking before I even cooked, just from preserving greens. I wanted quick, easy, tasty. Luckily my green loot provided. Is there anything easier and tastier then sautéed broccoli rabe? Its fresh and almost crunchy, but sort of soft, and its got that sweet/bitter taste thing going on, and is just overall quite satisfying.

I garnished my broccoli rabe with a few peels of fresh parmesan cheese. And because the produce itself was so good, and flavorful, the cheese provided ample salt. Normally I do advocate a bit of seasoning (salt, in home cooking is not really a "sodium concern", its processed foods that'll get you with sodium). But the touch of salt in the butter and the salt in the cheese proved to be plenty, because ultimately salt is simply a flavor enhancer, and quite honestly this rabe was flavorful enough to begin with!

Broccoli Rabe
bunch of broccoli rabe
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
olive oil
fresh parmesan cheese

Melt some butter in olive oil in a large pan. Rinse the rabe and shake it dry, but not totally dry. Roughly chop it to remove excess stem (some stem is good though). Add it to the oil along with the garlic. I use a garlic press but you could just chop or slice it if you haven't got a press. Sautée until bright green and tender. Move to serving plate. Use a vegetable peeler to shave some parmesan on top. Done and delicious in just a few minutes.

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