The Joy of Cooking Alone
In this week's share: broccoli rabe, zucchini, grapefruits, salad mix, lettuce, apples, sweet potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes, and parsnips. To try a dinner for one of braised broccoli rabe on toasted slices of rustic bread, click here.
Last week, my CSA companion, Maggie, decamped for a work trip to New Orleans, leaving me both jealous and without a dinner companion. I decided to comfort myself with apples: I would have to eat alone, but I could have our entire 10-pound box of vegetables to myself.
One of my favorite things about eating alone is that there is no one around to judge what I choose to call a meal. When I invite people to dinner, I usually construct something coherent that satisfies the traditional protein + starch + vegetable equation with a little additional razzle-dazzle, like homemade ice cream or lobster bisque. It's a fun game once in a while, but if I had to cook this way every day I know I would quickly devolve into a harried, resentful person.
I can see why my father, who did most of the day-to-day cooking in my family when I was growing up, had a pretty set menu. We ate lots of black beans and rice with broccoli on the side, and pasta and tomato sauce with broccoli on the side, and veggie burgers with roasted potatoes and broccoli on the side. Once a week or so, dinner would be a "mélange," pronounced with a questionable French accent and presented with a sort of jazz-hands gesture for emphasis. This routine meant, "For dinner, you will be eating whatever vegetables I have found in the fridge or the freezer, cooked in olive oil. Do not complain."
Of course I eventually moved out and taught myself to cook, which has led to certain revelations—it turns out that salt, which my father regards with deep suspicion, really does make things taste better—but which has also led me to decide that he was right about a lot of things. I admire that he corralled our whole family around the table every night to eat together. I still call him up for advice when I want to make chili, although I do ignore his addition of a can of chickpeas, which he started adding to everything when he became a vegetarian. I also still love broccoli, despite the almost-daily frequency with which it appeared on my plate when I was a child.
Because I'm still so fond of it, I've been a little disappointed about the total lack of broccoli in my CSA share this winter. This week brought broccoli rabe, though, which I think of as "the grownup's broccoli." Broccoli rabe (also known as broccoli raab, rapini, Chinese broccoli, or turnip broccoli) is not actually related to broccoli; it's descended from a wild herb and related to turnips. Thus, it looks like turnip greens, but with little broccoli florets that form here and there. Its taste reminds me of broccoli, but with more bitterness and pungency, hence the "grownup" designation.
For my solitary dinner, I followed my father's standard vegetable-cooking method—add garlic and olive oil—with a twist: after I had cooked the garlic in oil for a bit, I added a cup of water with the broccoli rabe and braised it rather than simply sautéing or boiling it. While it cooked, I toasted two slices of the country bread I had on hand. I rubbed the bread with a garlic clove and piled on the greens, then added a drizzle of olive oil and grated pecorino cheese over the whole thing. With a glass of red wine, it was a perfect solitary meal. The greens cooked this way would also make a good topping for pasta, or a side dish for some kind of meat-based main course. If you're cooking for other people, you could even tell them you've made a "mélange."