When I eat broccoli rabe today I think of my Uncle Sal Arestia and my Aunt Mary. They lived in Brooklyn in an apartment on 16th Avenue and 75th Street, about two blocks away from where I used to live. My uncle worked in a factory and by living in an apartment was able to save enough money to purchase land in Babylon Long Island. We used to call it “Uncle Sal’s Farm”. They had a couple of acres there and what amounted to a garage on the property. Uncle Sal came from my father’s town of Ragusa. And like many Italian immigrants he would love to grow and plant things, which he was able to do on his “farm”.
Broccoli rabe was one of the many types of vegetables he used to grow. And when we went to visit them my aunt would prepare the fresh picked greens in this way for us to enjoy. My mother and father would say, “we are going to Aunt Mary’s farm today.” I would love to go there because to me it was really a farm. Wide open space with fields. And when we got there my Uncle Sal would be bending over some zucchini plants or tomato plants, weeding and prepping the soil to help his vegetables along. He used to have wild blueberry bushes towards the back of his property and I remember picking them and putting the blueberries in an aluminum colander and bringing them to my Aunt Mary. They were so sweet and delicious. My uncle even gave me a little piece of his garden that he let me turn with a shovel and plant my own vegetables there. That was my first experience in gardening, and it stuck with me till this day. He would care for my plants while I was away, but when we would go back to visit I would rush over to see how they were doing. I was amazed how much they had grown. It was so neat to pick my own vegetables and tomatoes and bring them home to enjoy. There is nothing quite as comforting as getting your hands dirty in the soil and enjoying the fruits of your labor. Ask any Italian.
The garage on the property was converted into livable space with a large room and kitchen and bathroom at the corner. That was about it. But for my uncle and aunt to get away from work and city life it was his sanctuary. Eventually when they retired they had a house built on the property and lived there year round.
- 1 lb. fusilli, or penne or rigatoni
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 5 links of Italian sausages (about 1 lb.)
- ¼ cup of dry white wine
- Two bunches of broccoli rabe, washed and trimmed
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- Crushed red pepper to taste
- Salt and pepper
- grated Romano cheese
In a large sauté pan, place 2 tablespoons of oil, the onion, and the sausages with the skin removed. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the sausage, for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Once the sausage is browned add the wine and ½ cup of water, simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated.
Remove from heat, transfer to a dish using a slotted spoon and set aside. Discard the fat from the pan.
In a large pot, place 5 quarts of water with 2 tablespoon of salt over a high heat. When water boils, add broccoli rabe and cook for 5 minutes.
Take broccoli out, saving the water, and cool a few minutes and very carefully chop coarsely.
In the same water, cook pasta al dente, following the package’s direction.
In your sauté pan, place 4 tablespoons of oil, the garlic and sauté over a medium heat, when it is golden add broccoli and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Add sausages and simmer until pasta is ready.
Drain pasta and reserve some of the pasta water.
Add pasta to sauté pan with the sausages and broccoli; toss it over a high flame until the pasta and condiments blend well. If it becomes to dry add some of the reserved water. Remove from the heat and add about 1/4 cup of the Romano cheese.
Serve immediately,with grated cheese and crushed red pepper on the side.