My parents have a vegetable garden. In the days when both my parents were fully healthy, so was their garden. They grew numerous things, and several varieties, including tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, eggplant, basil, parsley, and mint. These days, my parents are elderly and my father’s health issues keep him from moving around too much. Consequently, their garden is kept down to whatever little they can handle. Which makes me sad on numerous levels.
Every now and then, they tried something new, and have even gotten things growing in there that they had not planted, or they planted what they thought was one thing but got something else. A couple of summers ago, they wound up with a peach tree. To this day, they don’t know where it came from. It made the most beautiful, delicious peaches. But easy come, easy go—as mysteriously as the tree appeared, it died for no apparent reason that same year. Bizarre.
This year, they planted what they thought was kale. But this strange leafy plant grew instead. It kind of has kale-ish leaves, but it is not kale. The plant also closely resembles broccoli rabe, but it does not have broccoli rabe’s signature mini broccoli-like heads. Nor does it have broccoli rabe’s bitterness. It just tastes kind of herbal and grassy. So, we all just happily ate this mystery plant.
Then, this past week, my friend Linda gave me something out of her CSA box. (For those of you not familiar with CSAs, it stands for community-supported agriculture. Local farms prepare boxes each week of whatever is ready to be harvested. You pay a fee and go pick up your box each week. You don’t know what you’re getting until you pick it up, and the surprise is half the fun.) This item was listed as spigarello. She had no idea what it was or what to do with it, so she gave it to me. Imagine my surprise when, upon investigation, that this is the stuff growing in my parents’ garden! Mystery solved.
Native to southern Italy, spigarello (aka spigariello) is an heirloom broccoli variety and has been called by some websites as the “parent of broccoli rabe.” I’ve read that it’s all the rage right now in California but has been featured by some top restaurants here in New York as well, including Tom Collichio’s Craft.
Because spigarello is kin to broccoli rabe, it can be used like it. You can sauté it, put it into soups, or bake it in casseroles. But since it does not have the bitterness of broccoli rabe, it can also be used in salads without sending the bitter part of the taste belt on your tongue into orbit.
So, here is my favorite (and the most classic) recipe for broccoli rabe (which appears in Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, Volume 1), prepared with spigarello. Thanks to Linda for providing the clue.
Sauteed Spigarello with Garlic and Red Pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 pound spigarello (or broccoli rabe)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
In a large pot, combine the oil, garlic, and red pepper and sauté over medium heat until the garlic is well browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the stems off the spigarello, and remove any blackened or yellowed leaves. Cut large pieces into edible lengths.
Add the spigarello, salt, and ½ cup water to the pot and stir. Continue cooking until the spigarello is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. If it gets dry, add a little more water. Transfer the spigarello and the juices to a serving platter. Season with more salt, if desired.
Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature with crusty pieces of Italian bread.
Keep leftovers in a sealed bowl in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.