Monday, October 27, 2008

At Market...Gai-Lan

Each week, when I am at the local farmers market, I try to buy something that I have never prepared before. One benefit of buying directly from farmers themselves, is that questions can be asked about the produce; everything from what the vegetable or fruit is, to how best to prepare it.

There is one particular vendor at our market who drives all the way from Fresno, which is a good 2 1/2 hours away. The entire family comes to help, including their teenage sons, and they sell many interesting varieties of vegetables and herbs. Their produce is so beautiful and fragrant, and all of it is grown without pesticides. I love to go to their stall and just smell the gorgeous herbs; lemon basil, cilantro, Thai basil, purple basil and lemongrass. They are true "poly-culture" farmers and have an astounding variety of produce throughout the year including English peas, pea shoots, snap peas, yellow, purple and green string beans, Opo squash, tiny eggplants, Chinese spinach, spicy Thai chilis, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, zucchini, and lately Chinese broccoli or Gai-Lan.

Gai-Lan is very similar to broccoli rabe and belongs to the crucifer family as do cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. It has a dark green, leafy stalk with little green or yellow buds resembling broccoli. It is slightly more bitter than broccoli and its tough, stringy stalks need to be peeled before cooking. I thought that instead of sauteing it with an oyster sauce, as is the typical preparation in Chinese households, I would substitute it for broccoli rabe in the famous Italian dish from Puglia, Broccoli Rabe with Orecchiette. I'm happy to report that the results were delicious! Here is the recipe.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chinese Broccoli

1 bunch Chinese broccoli or broccoli rabe
1 pound of spicy Italian sausage
1/2 C chicken broth
1/4 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound of pasta (orecchiette is traditional but small shells, mini fusilli or farfalli work well too)

Set plenty of salted water to boil for pasta. Wash Gai-Lan, peel stem ends and slice into one inch segments. Set aside.

Meanwhile, slice open sausages and remove from casing. Break apart in frying pan over medium heat and brown. After sausage is cooked add 1/2 C chicken broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

When pasta water for pasta has come to a boil, add pasta. Set timer for 5 minutes before the pasta should be finished cooking. When timer goes off add Gai-Lan to the boiling water and cook together with the pasta for the remaining cooking time. Drain pasta and Gai-Lan and add to frying pan with browned sausage and toss to combine. Sprinkle cheese over and serve.

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