The world of food is full of surprises, that’s what makes it so interesting. There is a Portuguese couple in my local market who sell olives, dried fruits and nuts, a selection of charcuterie, (they have a fabulous spicy chorizo), salt cod and a few Portuguese wines. Every time I see wine for sale in a market I think how archaic things are in Canada. Last week when I was buying salt cod to make brandade de morue, a dish of cooked salt cod mixed with pureed potatoes and garlic, I noticed a pile of greens at the back of the stall. This was unusual because they don’t sell fresh vegetables. I asked about them and the first thing they said was that they were bitter. Great! They called them turnip tops. What we call rapini or broccoli rabe is known as cime di rapa in Italian, or turnip tops. I bought a big bunch and was told, everyone in the markets loves to tell you how to cook your purchases, that I should blanch them first to remove some of the bitterness, then cook them in a little olive oil and garlic. I protested saying that I loved bitterness, so they allowed that I could cook them without any preliminary blanching.
The bunch resembled rapini, the leaves had hollow stems, but there were no tight flower heads, just a few stray yellow flowers. The wife told me to bend the stems until they snapped, like you do with asparagus, otherwise they would be too tough. I followed her advice, then rinsed the leaves well, pulling out a few stray weeds, I’m guessing they were grown on a friends farm. As the leaves drained in a colander, I heated a little olive oil in a large saucepan and gently cooked a couple of sliced garlic cloves until they began to colour. I dumped in all the damp leaves, gave them a stir, then covered the pot and cooked them until they were wilted and tender. The taste was like rapini, but significantly more bitter – I loved it. I am not sure my guests that night were as keen. However, that just meant I was able to enjoy the turnip greens the next day reheated in a frying pan topped with a couple of eggs. I am hoping they will have more this week.