I’m always in search of a good appetizer recipe, a punchy little bite of the do-ahead variety. Everyone’s tired of crudités (healthy, sure, but celery sticks and hummus are only un-boring if you’re nibbling whilst overlooking the Bosphorus and waiting on your yacht), my friends have got to be weary of my cheese straws, and there’s only so many times one can indulge in devils on horseback before your doctor starts looking askance at your cholesterol levels. (Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates never fail, though. People go crazy for them.)
So I am pleased as punch today, friends.
We’re all well-acquainted with pesto, of course, and your unassuming guests may spy a sparkling emerald green and go in for a crostini expecting the polite basil-based topping. Instead…ka-pow! Peppery, vegetal, spicy-kicky broccoli rabe! Grassy olive oil! Melty, rich fontina cheese! Snappy hot coppa! Ka-POW!
Little lathed carrot sticks can not compete with this, the poor dears.
Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a vitamin-packed member of the cabbage family tree (Brassica rapa), a descendant of wild mustard and more closely related to turnips and bok choy than actual broccoli (a distant cousin from the Mediterranean Brassica oleracea branch). A quick blanching helps mellow rapini’s assertive bitterness, and an addition of toasted pistachios and Pecorino to the pesto coaxes out some of its nutty qualities. The richness of the olive oil, fontina and salumi smooth out any rough edges, keeping all the components singing on key.
And that’s all there is to it, really: a rustic-elegant, unexpected hors d’oeuvre that’s pretty to look at with lots of personality, a do-ahead marvel of guns blazing, out-loud flavor. (Really more of a slap-your-palate-awake starter than a gently rousing amuse-bouche. Wake up!) Pair the crostini with a lightly bitter or herbal apertivo (something Campari-ish) or a peppery Zinfandel, and follow with a garlicky, bold main course. And invite me over.
Our sincere apologies, crudités. You never stood a chance.
Broccoli Rabe Pesto
adapted from Food & Wine magazine; makes enough for about 24 crostini
- 1/2 lb broccoli rabe (also known as rapini), tough stems discarded
- 1/2 C pistachios, shelled
- 1/2 C good olive oil
- 1 C Italian parsley leaves, loosely packed
- 1/2 C Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
- 1 large garlic clove
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Toast pistachios in a pie plate or rimmed baking sheet for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and golden brown. Let cool.
In a medium saucepan, heat generously salted water to boiling. Blanch broccoli rabe for two minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cool water to keep from overcooking. Squeeze out excess water.
In a food processor, pulse the garlic and pistachios until coarsely chopped. Add broccoli rabe and parsley and pulse until finely chopped. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the processor’s bowl. Add olive oil and pulse until well-absorbed, scraping the bottom of the bowl halfway through. Add lemon juice, if using.
Stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add additional olive oil to smooth out the texture and flavor. Pesto keeps well in the fridge for several days.
Broccoli Rabe & Fontina Crostini
- Broccoli rabe pesto (recipe above)
- Fontina cheese
- Spicy coppa, sopressata or other cured sausage, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice baguette to desired size and lightly toast on a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the toasts and switch the oven setting to broil. Spread pesto (recipe above) on toasted baguette slices and top with a slice of fontina cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and browned in parts. Remove from oven and top with piece of spicy sopressata or coppa. Serve.