Spigarello. No, it is not Leonardo Da Vinci’s younger brother. No, it is not a minor character lurking in the background lyrics of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And, no, not a forgotten opera by Puccini.
Spigarello is an ancient green of Italian descent related to broccoli. It is all the rage, it seems, on the coasts—especially the West Coast in high-end restaurants. But it recently showed up at my farmers market, and I’m guessing you can probably find it at your local farmers market, too.
Spigarello is a sturdy plant that holds up to the extremes of Midwest weather. Its leaves are large and tender and the darkest green I’ve ever seen. According to the website Specialty Produce, “Spigarello broccoli is an heirloom variety considered to be the parent of broccoli rabe…. Its real name is Cima di Rapa, which translates to ‘turnip top’ but is also loosely translated to broccoli rabe.” Whatever you call it, Spigarello is a super green, loaded with vitamin A and C and potassium–even a little protein. The leaves are tender, slightly sweet and have none of the bitterness often present in other sturdy greens. It may be the new kale!
And in my house, it was dinner—a one-skillet (well, almost) vegan dish that even Don thought was pretty tasty. The qualifier on the claim of “one-skillet” is that the recipe requires you to cook beans ahead. Nothing difficult or complicated, but this one extra step will make this dish taste amazing. The extra step is worth the effort. Promise. Be brave…
- One cup dry Aduzki beans, soaked over night
- Three cups vegetable stock
- One whole star anise
- One-half inch stick cinnamon (Not cassis, use soft, high-quality cinnamon stick from a spice vendor such as Penzeys.)
- Seeds from one cardamom pod
- One-quarter cup peanut oil, or oil of choice
- One cup chopped onions (I used yellow onion, but red or spring onions will work just fine.)
- One-half cup chopped garlic scapes (If scapes are gone at your market, use about four large cloves garlic, chopped not-too-fine because they will be in the skillet quite a while, and you don’t want them to burn.)
- One cup scrubbed, peeled and chopped turnips (If there are no turnips, try potatoes—even sweet potatoes—or a combination of turnips and potatoes.)
- One cup scrubbed and chopped carrots
- One cup scrubbed, peeled and chopped kohlrabi (If you’re not wild about kohlrabi you can leave it out or replace with turnip. We love it, though.)
- One cup zucchini or summer squash, or combination, scrubbed and sliced
- One cup shelled peas, if available
- One teaspoon each ground cumin, ginger and curry
- One-half teaspoon each allspice and turmeric
- One-half teaspoon Harissa or other hot chili paste (Optional, but, really, you want to include this…brave, remember?)
- Two tablespoons Earth Balance Original Flavor Coconut Spread (I use this product a lot, so think about giving it a try. You could also use unsalted butter or one tablespoon raw coconut oil in a pinch. But it will not be exactly the same.)
- Four cups washed and chopped Spigarello leaves (stems removed)
- Two to three tablespoons fresh cilantro, or herb of choice, minced
- Two to three tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Be sure to soak the Adzuki beans overnight. Drain, rinse and return to a large pot. Cover with vegetable stock and add the star anise, cinnamon stick and cardamon seeds. Bring to a steady boil and then reduce to low heat and simmer softly until nearly done—al dente. This step takes about 45 minutes. I prepared my beans the day before I cooked the main dish. This step could even be done up to three days before. The longer the beans, broth and spices mingle in the frig the stronger the flavor will be.
- If you have made your beans in advance, bring them out of the frig to allow them to come to room temperature. Drain, reserving one cup bean broth. Remove whole spices.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in your largest chef skillet (Use a skillet with a tight-fitting lid.). Add the onions and garlic scapes/chopped garlic with a dash of coarse salt and cook five minutes, until they begin to sweat.
- Next add the turnips, carrots, kohlrabi and squash. Sprinkle with salt and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so until the vegetables are glossy and beginning to soften. Add the peas and stir.
- If your skillet is dry, add about a tablespoon more oil and then sprinkle in the cumin, ginger, curry, allspice and turmeric with the Harissa or other hot chili paste. The idea here is to stir this around so that the spices can bloom in the oil. You will smell the spices when this really gets going. At that point, add the Earth Balance Coconut Spread or whatever buttery fat you are using and stir well.
- Add the beans and the reserved liquid and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Once the skillet is bubbling along, reduce the heat to medium-low and keep at a steady, soft simmer for about 30 minutes. Your kitchen will now smell amazing.
- Carefully mound in the Spigarello and stir it around until it is combined with the other ingredients. Put the lid on the skillet and allow the Spigarello to cook down for about three to four minutes. It will significantly reduce in volume.
- Remove the lid. Stir well and taste—add salt and pepper as desired. Finally, remove from heat, sprinkle in the fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice. Give it a stir and serve.
Note that prep time does not include soaking the beans overnight or precooking them. The cook time here is between 30-45 minutes. You don't want mushy beans. You can extend the dish to serve 10 and add another level of protein by serving over long-grain brown rice or quinoa.
About the Beans
I used Adzuki beans because I not only love their flavor and the fact that they can make a great broth but also because of their high protein content. You might recall that I’ve used Adzuki beans before—actually, many times—and strongly suggest you use them here. They have a lovely flavor, almost nutty, and hold their texture well, which is essential because you are cooking them down and then reheating them for the final dish.
You can see that you have quite a bit of flexibility in your choice of vegetables going into this skillet dinner. The idea, of course, is to use what is fresh and abundant at the farmers market or what absolutely must go from your frig. You just need to remember two rules of thumb: first, always begin with your aromatics. Think classic Mira quoi: carrots, celery and onions. But yours may include fennel, instead of celery, for instance. Once you get that going in the oil with salt to make it sweat, start adding other things—sturdy potatoes and turnips next, followed by more tender selections such as the peas. Rule two: Anything chopped ends up the same size so that cooking is uniform for each addition.
Spicing It Up
I know it seems as if I have used a lot of pungent and heavy spices for one skillet, but we just loved this combination of flavors, especially when the beans were added and the liquid became buttery with the coconut spread. So don’t feel you must use my combination of spices, particularly if these aren’t your favorites. But do be brave here, and find a similar combination that suits your family. Also, while my choice of fresh herb was cilantro, yours can be parsley, basil, thyme, oregano or chervil or a mixture. I know there are strong reactions to cilantro. So go with that flow.
Please let us know if you are using Spigarello. Supporting local farmers and the production of heirloom vegetables keeps our food supply strong, clean and safe. I also used this wonderful green in a pureed soup as part of a deep cleanse I was doing. Because it is not bitter, as kale can be, it made a yummy, healthy and totally digestible dish.