A homecoming, times two

Ok, Jef has rightly pointed out that I’m a whiny, spoiled Californian. How can I complain about access to fresh produce whilst living in San Diego? Really, Maia. People in North Dakota are still buried under snow, and you want to complain that there are too many greens and not enough strawberries in March? Come on. But really it’s not so much lack of access to produce… more that I am sick and tired of winter greens (and greys), and am was chomping at the bit for spring to go ahead and get here already. And it seems that all my complaining has paid off in the form of gorgeous strawberries and adorable baby zucchini and carrots. Spring has arrived. That’ll teach me.

Flowers from La Jolla Farmer's Market

For the last ten days or so, Henning was away in New Hampshire, holed up in a cabin with a bunch of other math graduate students and postdocs, trying to understand the construction of tmf. I took advantage of the break and spent time with my dad at my parents house. The sun was shining and the lure of their pool and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the San Elijo lagoon just couldn’t compare to my lonely La Jolla apartment. Plus, their house is 7 miles from Chino Farm, which is definitely easy biking distance. On Friday I made that trek, managing to get myself lost and bike a few extra miles and hills. Luckily, Rancho Santa Fe is populated by trophy wives on cell phones, who don’t have to work and are happy to give a poor biker directions (“Go up that giant hill with the windy road…”). When I made it to the farm, I was rewarded with some of the most beautiful produce I’ve laid eyes on recently—baby carrots and zucchini, squash blossoms, herbs, and what seemed like fifty seven kinds of lettuce and greens. I bought two kinds of baby carrots — white and red — and two kinds of baby zucchini. I treated the tender, young veggies with care and served them simply sauteed, alongside some seared scallops. On my ride out to Chino Farm, I noticed that the strawberry stand on Manchester had berries, so I bought a 3-pack. You can’t get much more local than that—strawberries picked that morning from a field half a mile from where we ate them. They were beautiful and inspired a pavlova, which, as my dad put it, was just stupidly good. It was a nice little homecoming.

Sunday marked a homecoming of a somewhat different sort—Henning’s return from New Hampshire. I decided to make a somewhat special dish, following Ina Garten’s example. She always cooks fabulous meals for her husband when he comes home for the weekend—you want to make sure that they always want to come home. I made the sausage and broccoli rabe torta from the cover of January’s Gourmet. Tender crepes are layered with sausage, broccoli rabe, and a creamy bechamel sauce, creating something akin to a round lasagna, only infinitely better. It oozes bechamel when you cut through the crepes with the side of your fork. Broccoli rabe is one of those bitter green vegetables that I always thought that I didn’t like. This recipe blanches the broccoli rabe first, which seems to do away with most of that unpleasant bitterness. The flavor that’s left is slightly bitter, but in a beautiful kale-broccoli-spinach-hybrid kind of way, and it balances the creamy richness of the bechamel just perfectly. If you think you don’t like broccoli rabe, do give this recipe a go… you just might be surprised.

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Torta

My mom and I had made this torta sometime in January, and it was outstanding, if a bit of work. This time I split the work over two days, and it seemed to go by easily and quickly, even without my mom’s expert help. The original recipe called for using an 8 inch springform pan and judging by the comments on the recipe, I wasn’t the only one who thought that this was an odd size. I have a 9 inch springform, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to fit this size pan. The crepe batter, however, called for two eggs, and since eggs don’t usually come in halves or quarters, I adjusted to three eggs. This means that you’ll have enough batter to make about eight crepes, two of which could be a cook’s bonus dinner if you make them the night before.

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Torta
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2007

For crespelle
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling
1 lb broccoli rabe
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (not precooked)
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

For besciamella sauce
5 tbs unsalted butter
5 tbs cup all-purpose flour
2 cups plus 3 tbs whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/4 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (5/8 cup)

For assembly
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
5 tbs cup dry bread crumbs
5 oz chilled Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (1.25 cup)
1 1/4 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (5/8 cup)

Special equipment: a 9-inch (20-cm) round springform pan

Make crespelle:
Blend together eggs, milk, flour, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.

Lightly brush a 12-inch nonstick skillet with melted butter and heat over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Ladle about 1/3 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom, then pour excess batter back into bowl. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crespella.) Cook until just set and underside is lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then invert crespella onto a clean kitchen towel to cool completely. (It will be cooked on one side only.) Make more crespelle with remaining batter in same manner, brushing skillet with melted butter as needed. You will need six for the torta, any extras are fair game for a snack.

Make filling:
Cut off and discard 1 inch from stem ends of broccoli rabe, then chop remainder into 1 inch pieces.

Cook broccoli rabe in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain well in a colander and pat dry.

Put sausage, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large skillet and cook, breaking up sausage with back of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink inside, about 5 minutes. If you wish, you may tilt the pan to on side and spoon off excess fat. Add broccoli rabe and cook, tossing to coat with sausage, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make sauce:
Heat butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat until foam subsides, then add flour and cook, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a slow stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, and cheese, then remove from heat.

Assemble:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Invert bottom of springform pan (torta will be easier to slide off bottom when serving), then lock. Wrap outside of entire bottom of springform pan with a double layer of foil. Generously brush inside bottom and side of pan with butter, then sprinkle bottom with bread crumbs.

Stir together Fontina and parmesan in a bowl. Put 1 crespella in bottom of springform pan, then sprinkle with one sixth of filling and drizzle with 1/3 cup sauce. Make 5 more layers each of crespella, filling, and sauce (end with a layer of sauce). Sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over top.

Bake, uncovered, until top is bubbling and golden, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Remove side of pan and carefully slide torta off bottom of pan onto a plate. Cut torta into wedges.

Make ahead:

Broccoli rabe can be cooked and drained 1 day ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using.

Sauce can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered.

Crespelle can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, stacked between layers of wax or parchment paper and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

4 Comments

  1. Posted April 2, 2007 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi Maia – that sounds really good, I think I might just try it! Nice photos too! For some reason, I thought you lived in University Heights – based on your coffeehouse post. Chino’s is nice – expensive but good stuff. I like the CSA idea, but I used to belong to BeWise and I wasn’t that crazy about it (for all the reasons Jef mentioned) and Seabreeze doesn’t deliver to my neighborhood. I just go to Peoples or the Farmers Markets when I can. Cheers and Happy Spring!

  2. Posted April 2, 2007 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alice. University Heights is my adopted home. I have several friends that live in the area. I live in La Jolla, in grad housing here, because it is near the beach, close to school, and relatively cheap. As far as atmosphere and community are concerned, I’d much rather be down there. Yeah, Chino’s is pricey. I’d been with my mom several times over the years, but always when she’s picking up the bill. At least you know you’re getting perfect veggies. It’s not hit and miss. I usually go to La Jolla, Del Mar, or Solana Beach farmer’s markets, plus the farmstand at La Jolla Towne Square, which is actually really great. He definitely has the best mangoes I’ve found anywhere. And.. you should definitely make the torta! It’s super yummy.

  3. Posted April 5, 2007 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    Oh, crepes! I usually have mine for dessert and have made dishes similar to yours but they were dessert-like creations. I’m not sure why more people don’t make crepes, they aren’t all that hard to make and you don’t even need to dirty a spatula when you make them (I use my fingers!)

    Broccoli Rabe…weren’t you just complaining about winter greens and veggies? :)
    (I know, you had it in January)

  4. Posted April 5, 2007 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I know, I know. I was totally complaining about winter greens and then I go and cook with broccoli rabe. But of course, it’s much better when it comes with crepes, bechamel, and sausage!


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