One of the most exciting things about being in a new country for me is the food. I love grocery shopping, and being in a new place just amplifies the thrill- novel, surprising items await around every corner, and the produce section is stocked with piles and piles of interesting vegetables, from ones I’ve heard of, but never come across before, to ones that look so unusual and outright strange, that I have no idea what they are. Sometimes it leads to funny shopping errors, like when my husband picked up something that looked like a banana, but when we peeled it open, definitely was not. A few google searches later, there it was: a plantain.

When I spotted broccoli rabe on Friday, it’s glorious little bunches piled high, I just knew one of them had to be mine!

Isn’t it simply gorgeous? Adorable little broccoli-look-alike florets play peek-a-boo amidst its lush green leaves. I think it would make such a fun centerpiece, standing up in vases, at an outdoor reception. And wouldn’t it be just darling as a bridal bouquet for an outdoorsy nature girl, or a foodie bride?

I had never tasted broccoli rabe before, and was very excited to give it a try. I searched online for recipes and emerged an hour and a half later with three finalists: Pizza with Broccoli Rabe, Roasted Onions and Olives via Deb’s Smitten Kitchen, Penne with Broccoli Rabe from the Amateur Gourmet, and a suggestion to saute it with mushrooms and then make room in the pan for eggs to cook sunny side up. I also learned that broccoli rabe and rapini are one and the same, and that despite its little look-alike florets, it is not related to the broccoli but to the turnip. From the comments on Deb’s post, as well as from my extensive search, it seemed broccoli rabe could be approached like kale; a recurring theme was blanching it, then sautéing it in olive oil with garlic and chili flakes. By this time I was hungry and exhausted, and although the photos on Deb’s post looked absolutely stunning, I was not game for the two hour rising period, or going to pick up some mozzarella.The third option never really made it to the drawing board, I mean, come on, it was competing against pizza and penne. So, as you probably assumed given the title of this post, and the opening picture: penne it was.

I really enjoyed the broccoli rabe (apart from how cute it is, because really, it’s hard to get over it). I found the taste a little similar to kale, but more bitter and peppery and woodsy, with the little florets a bit softer on the palate than the leaves. Cooked this way, it has a nice bite, thick and chewy.

This dish comes together really quickly, and if you’re not on the phone (as I was, with a special birthday girl), you can set the water to boil, get chopping, and be done by the time the pasta is.

Penne with Broccoli Rabe, Olives and Chevre

Adapted from the Amateur Gourmet

Although I topped my first bowl with parmesan, as pictured above, I wasn’t thrilled with the result; I found it intensified the woodsy aspect of the broccoli rabe, and left it one dimensional. I then did a taste test with crumbled feta (too salty) and chevre, which was absolutely amazing- it’s mellow softness brought a brightness and complexity, along with a comforting oomph to a  dish veering on the stern. I think the chevre really makes this dish, and list it in the recipe below.

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

1 lb/ 500 grams whole wheat penne

1/4 cup olive oil

8 cloves garlic

1 bunch broccoli rabe

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/4 cup kalamata olives

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup crumbled chevre

Put a large pot of water on the stove, and bring to a boil. Sliver your garlic, then wash and chop your broccoli rabe (no need to dry it). Chop your olives, and set aside. When the water boils, salt liberally, add the pasta, and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a rather large pot over medium heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, until the garlic turns golden. Add the broccoli rabe all at once, so that it doesn’t sputter, sprinkle with salt and cover with a lid. Turn down the heat, and cook it for a minute or two, before lifting the lid, giving it a stir, and putting the lid back on for another few minutes, until wilted, but still slightly crunchy. If it looks dry, you can add some of the pasta water.

Add the pasta and olives to the pot with the broccoli rabe, give it a stir, and turn off the heat. Add the lemon zest, chevre, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy.