A couple of weeks ago I bought Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, because I kept getting inspired by people on Instagram cooking from it and posting their beautiful, delicious-looking results. I am late to the party, as ever - it came out last fall - but I'm enamored of this book. The chef's seasonal and simple but technique-driven approach is exactly how I aspire to cook.
It's filled with so much intuitive cooking that I might not have bought were I not in a long-standing rut of cooking dinner for two kids who don't stray from their narrowly prescribed comfort zone, despite my best intentions. I'm trying to make peace with the fact that dinner is more about feeding than cooking, and that my desire to really cook - to try new recipes and ingredients, to answer my own appetite, to hone techniques, to improve my skills- is dependent on me finding other mealtimes and other audiences, even if it is an audience of one (myself).
But if a sure way out of a cooking rut is to follow someone else's recipes, then this collection is my answer. The book is organized by season and then within the seasons, by the vegetables of that time of year - a true north approach to cooking, for me, anyway. And the design is lovely - impeccably modern but also feeling a little like a manual in a way that resonates with me (I love a good cookbook index, thank you Six Seasons editors). And Six Seasons is refreshingly light on the lifestyle vibe - in an era where some cookbooks feel like catalogs for how to live, this feels like both a throwback and a step forward at the same time.
Anyway, I made this mozz-smothered broccoli rabe yesterday because bitterness. I love this green, could dive into a plain bowlful, but that wouldn't be me getting out of a rut. So I followed this recipe. And then ate half of it. It's the kind of thing my kids wouldn't touch, so if I made it for dinner, I'd serve it with some plain pasta and/or chicken cutlets (see Instagram) so everyone can have something they like. But for a solo lunch or lunch with friends, it's good as is, with a piece of crusty bread to go alongside. And now I'm inspired! What other vegetables can I season with tomatoes, chile, and anchovies and cover with mozzarella?
Here's the recipe:
Broccoli Rabe, Mozzarella, Anchovy, and Spicy Tomato
Serves 4 (or maybe 2 if you're two hungry people eating lunch)
Adapted from Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
5 or 6 anchovy filets
Dried chile flakes
1 pound broccoli rabe, tough ends trimmed, chopped 2 or 3 times into roughly 3-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1. Slice the mozzarella into 1/4-inch rounds and spread on a paper-towel lined plate. Cover with more paper towels and set a skillet or baking sheet with a can on it to help press out the moisture in the cheese. This will help it brown well and keep it from turning rubbery when cooked. Set aside (This tip might be my favorite takeaway so far - I'll keep it in mind whenever working with fresh mozz.).
2. Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook slowly to toast it. It should soften and turn golden brown (but not burnt) and fragrant. Once toasted, smash the cloves with a wooden spoon and add the anchovies, stirring to let them dissolve into the olive oil and garlic mixture. Stir in the chile flakes.
3. Add the broccoli rabe and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and toss to coat with the garlic mix. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the rabe has wilted and the stems are starting to soften - 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, stirring and shaking the pan so they mix in with the rabe. Cook, stirring, for another 10 minutes or so, until the broccoli rabe is totally soft and the tomato liquid has cooked off, leaving the toms thick and jammy.
5. Heat the broiler and arrange the broccoli rabe in a baking dish large enough to fit the mixture in a single layer (I used a 9-inch ceramic pie plate). Arrange drained mozzarella on top, drizzle with a little olive oil, and broil until the cheese is browned and the casserole is bubbling, 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle with the Parmigiano and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Serve hot and melty.