We call her the portion police.
She blew into our Thanksgiving gathering about 10 years ago, the new girlfriend of a family relative. Decked out in a red silk suit and freshly frosted hair, she dispensed with hellos by getting right down to business.
“Do you know most people will eat over 1,000 calories today?”
I didn’t miss a beat.
“Yes, I put most of those calories in our dinner myself.”
She picked at the turkey, poked at the potatoes and completely passed up the butternut squash. (“I’m allergic to cinnamon…”) When she saw that most everyone’s plate was clean, she pushed back her chair and began clearing the table.
“That was delicious. I’m going to take a walk.”
“Wow,” my dad said as she and her beau left for their stroll. “I would really have liked seconds.”
She hasn’t returned for Thanksgiving since. And while we still laugh about the day the portion police came to dinner, I have to admit …
She had a point.
All that cream. All that butter. All those dressings and rolls. Everything at the table — even the vegetables — wears a cloak of calories.
Not this year. In an effort to find a dish that acts as a foil for Thanksgiving’s richness and fat, I’ve turned to an unlikely contender:
Broccoli rabe, aka rapini or Italian broccoli, is a deeply green, deeply bitter leafy vegetable. A Mediterranean native, it was introduced to the United States in the 1920s by Italian immigrants. It’s loaded with vitamins A and C and is rich in both calcium and iron.
I’m sure it would take well to cheese and cream. But I’m going to keep it in as pure a state as possible.
For our eight-person dinner, I’ll buy 3-4 pounds of broccoli rabe. Thanksgiving day, I’ll slice off the ends of the stalks and plunge what remains in boiling, salted water for 7-8 minutes.
The boil is crucial. It’s what draws a lot of the bitterness out of the vegetable. I’ve read recipes that call for simply sauteeing broccoli rabe or blanching it for a minute or so. But that kind of tender treatment leaves it much too bitter for me. A good 7- to 8-minute boil mellows the flavor and primes the rabe for flavorful additions.
Once it has boiled, I’ll drain my broccoli and throw it in ice water to stop the cooking and set the green. Then I’ll drain it again and set it aside.
About 10 minutes before dinner. I’ll film a large saute pan with olive oil. I’ll mince 4-5 cloves of garlic, and throw those in the hot oil for 30 seconds. Then I’ll add the broccoli rabe and saute it for 5 minutes, until nice and hot. I’ll season with salt and pepper, then stir in 1/2 cup dried currants and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts.
The clean flavors will cut through the richness of gravy and creamed spinach; the hint of bitterness will act as a palate cleanser as we eat our way through turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and the sweet potato things (https://dinnerbysusan.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/sweet-bliss-at-the-thanksgiving-table/).
Broccoli rabe is naturally low in calories (just 20 per serving in its raw state). Even with a slick of olive oil and a handful of currants and pine nuts, it’s a low-cal addition to the Thanksgiving table that no one should feel bad about putting on a plate — one, two (or three!) times.
Even the portion police would approve.