My crop of broccoli rabe (sowed back in mid-October) is in full swing these days. The first few baby florets popped up two weeks ago, driven to early flowering by the warm days. So I’ve been picking over the patch every few days, gathering a half-dozen or so plants each time. Fresh broccoli rabe has none of the bitterness of supermarket specimens….it is delicious simply sauteed with chili flakes, minced garlic, and olive oil; no blanching (often suggested to curb bitterness) is needed.
The latest broccoli rabe harvest found its way into a simple venison sausage and white bean soup, modeled on the classic southern Italian pairing of sausage and bitter greens. The soup’s flavor hinges on the sausage’s seasoning: I used a peppery venison sausage supplied by a neighbor who hunts in northeast Louisiana. Substitute a highly seasoned pork sausage, or use half venison and half pork for a milder flavor.
Sausage, bean, and broccoli rabe soup
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb fresh (unsmoked) venison sausage or full-flavored pork sausage, removed from the casing
- 3 cups chicken stock (or light beef stock)
- 4 cups loosely packed broccoli rabe, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces (stems, leaves, & florets)
- 14 ounces cooked cannellini beans
- 1 cup medium whole-wheat pasta shells (or any small pasta shape)
- salt & freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Saute onion until golden brown, then add minced garlic and sausage. Continue to cook, breaking up the sausage into bite-sized chunks as it browns. Once sausage is nicely browned, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, scraping browned bits off the bottom of the pan. When the mixture boils, add broccoli rabe, pressing to submerge in the boiling broth. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then stir in cannellini beans. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, then add 1 cup of pasta. Simmer slowly until pasta is tender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper levels (additional salt and pepper may not be needed, depending on the sausage and stock flavors). Serve in wide bowls sprinkled with grated pecorino.
Note: this is a basic soup template–it is infinitely adaptable to other bitter greens like kale, spinach, or chard. A big handful of chopped parsley, some finely chopped fennel fronds, or a little slivered cabbage added to the pot would only improve things. Or substitute Mexican-style fresh chorizo for the venison sausage and use pinto or black beans to take it in a southwesterly direction. In short, improvise according to the ingredients at hand.