Cook Fresh Tomatoes. Add Beans. Watch Your Head Explode.
Plus, rabe with sausage and grapes and why Caesar salad is dinner
Maybe it’s a coincidence that the three dinner recipes we chose for this week are Italian, or maybe we just really wanted an excuse to shower some stuff with grated parmesan. Either way, these are all classics. There’s Caesar salad, which needs no introduction other than my saying it’s often considered a side dish or a nice “light lunch,” which never really seemed fair. It’s rich, luxurious, and loaded with delicious croutons: That’s dinner in my book, especially in the summer heat, when sometimes all you want is a really satisfying salad.
Then there’s the incredible combination of broccoli rabe, sausage, and grapes, which is one of my favorites. The sausage-and-grape thing is traditional, but kind of under-appreciated; with the rabe, it’s a meal unto itself. Throw in some crusty bread for good measure if you want, or toss it with pasta or a hearty grain —think farro or wheat berries. I’m often inclined to skip the grapes if I go the pasta route, but I’ll admit that they’re kind of fun and unexpected in there.
Saving the best for last, a recipe whose name doesn’t even come close to doing it justice: Beans and Tomatoes. Here, you cook chopped fresh tomatoes in a not-insignificant amount of butter or olive oil — or a combination— until they release their liquid, break down a bit and start to thicken. Add some shallots and/or garlic and thyme or rosemary in there, too. Then you add cooked beans — navy, butter, lima, cannellini, that sort of thing — and let the mixture get a little creamy. I can’t even explain how good this is; it’s the perfect vehicle for fresh tomatoes, which are in season right now, but not yet at their peak. As with the rabe, sausage, and grape dish, some bread, rice, grains, or pasta turns this into dinner, though I wouldn’t hesitate to just eat it plain out of a bowl. With some grated parm, of course.
Beans and Tomatoes
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes with cooked beans
Totally rustic, especially if you leave the fresh tomatoes in big chunks. You can serve these beans alongside roast or grilled meat, chicken, or fish; or, for an easy dinner, spoon over rice or thickly sliced bread, or toss with pasta or grains. We used cannellini beans here, but you can also any other white beans that you find: the bigger the better.
Other optional adjustments: We used a combination of butter and olive oil because it’s THE BEST, and added some thinly sliced garlic along with the shallots, keeping an eye on the heat so it didn’t burn. We also used fresh rosemary instead of thyme, because it’s what was lying around, and because the combination of white beans, tomatoes, and rosemary is pretty unassailable.
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots or scallions
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
3 cups drained cooked or canned navy, lima, or butter beans (reserve the liquid if you cooked them yourself)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Put the butter or oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the shallots, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the thyme and stir for about 30 seconds.
2. Add the tomatoes and adjust the heat so they release their liquid and bubble steadily. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break up and the liquid thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and enough bean cooking liquid or water to make a slightly soupy mixture.
3. Raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is creamy, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot, topped with parmesan if you’re using it. (Or refrigerate for several days or freeze for months; reheat gently.)
Broccoli Rabe with Sausage and Grapes
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes
With the meat, this becomes a main course, a simple Italian classic, and one of my favorites. Without the grapes and thinned with a little water or stock, it makes an amazing pasta sauce.
Other vegetables you can use: broccoli, broccolini, gai lan, turnip or mustard greens, asparagus, kale, collards. Substitute chopped apple for the grapes if you like.
1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut up
1 pound sweet Italian sausages
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups seedless grapes (about 8 ounces)
Salt and pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Prepare an ice bath (a few handfuls of ice and some cold water in a bowl). Add the broccoli rabe to the boiling water and cook, stirring once or twice, until it is bright green and beginning to get tender, about 3 minutes. Drain. Put the broccoli rabe in the ice bath to stop the cooking, and drain again. At this point, you can refrigerate the broccoli rabe, wrapped well or in a covered container, for up to 2 days.
2. Cook the sausages over medium heat in a large skillet, pricking them with a fork a few times and turning from time to time, until browned in places, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove the sausages from the skillet (don’t worry if it’s not done) and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Return to the skillet over medium heat; cook, turning occasionally until all sides of the sausage are nicely browned, about 5 minutes more.
4. Squeeze the excess liquid from the broccoli rabe; chop it coarsely. Add it to the skillet along with the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s fully tender and browned in places, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the grapes, sprinkle with salt pepper, and cook until the grapes are heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
The essentials in a real Caesar salad are garlic, egg — which here I like to coddle just a bit for texture—lemon juice, anchovies, and real parmesan cheese. Of course, you can easily make this vegetarian by skipping the anchovies and Worcestershire; or take it in the opposite direction by adding chopped cooked chicken, steak, or shrimp.
1 clove garlic, halved
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped anchovies, or to taste
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
1 large or 2 small heads romaine lettuce, torn into pieces (about 6 cups)
Croutons (see below)
1/2 to 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1. Rub the inside of a salad bowl with the garlic clove; discard the spent garlic.
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pierce a tiny hole in the broad end of each of the eggs with a pin or needle. Boil the eggs for 60 to 90 seconds; they will just begin to firm up. Crack them into the bowl, being sure to scoop out any white that clings to the shell.
3. Beat the eggs with a fork to combine. Gradually add the lemon juice, then the oil, beating constantly.
4. Stir in the anchovies and Worcestershire. Taste and add salt if needed and plenty of pepper. Add the lettuce and toss well. Top with the croutons and parmesan, then toss again at the table. Serve immediately.
My Kind of Croutons
I like the crust left on: Cut about 8 ounces of bread from a whole loaf into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes. (Or if you already have slices, cut into squares.) Put 1/4 cup or more olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold the bread. When hot, add the bread and cook, tossing occasionally, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and adding more oil as needed, until lightly browned and crisp all over, 10 to 15 minutes.