What’s Italian Broccoli?
There are few things more enviable than a dinner invitation to William and Patience Renzulli’s Lower Town home. For those who don‘t know the Renzullis, they are avid Midtown Market enthusiasts and some of Paducah’s finest dinner party hosts. So believe us when we say that no one on our staff would dream of passing up the opportunity to partake in Bill’s delightful cooking and Patience’s hilarious entertainment.
Bill, a self-taught home cook, dabbles in all things related to pasta. The grandson of Italian immigrants, concocting recipes and preparing dishes inspired by the “Old Country” are just a couple of the creative outlets that Bill enjoys these days.
While Bill grew up eating traditional Italian meals, when it came to gleaning some tips from his mother it wasn’t always easy.
“When I first started exploring Italian cooking I would ask Mom how she did it and she would say, ‘I don’t know, Bill. I just use a little of this and little of that,’” Bill says.
Over the years Bill has learned how to pair flavors and ingredients. Many of those recipes can be found in Bill’s book, A Pasta Journal.
The night of the big dinner party, Bill took the Midtown Market crew on a tour of the various pasta pantries located throughout the kitchen. He also introduced us to a few of his essential cooking tools and ingredients for preparing delicious pasta recipes. Two of those ingredients included broccoli rabe and Al Dente pasta, items that Midtown Market just so happens to carry.
For those unfamiliar with broccoli rabe, it’s a leafy green vegetable, related to cabbage and turnips. It is known by a variety of other names, including Italian broccoli, American gai lan, rapini and brocoletti di rape. However, we call it broccoli rabe.
This leafy green can be prepared in a variety of ways. It can be steamed, fried or braised. It can also be incorporated into soups, salads, and into Bill’s personal favorite dishes, pasta! Bill’s affection for broccoli rabe is fitting sincehis Italian roots run deep and everyone knows how much Italians adore broccoli rabe.
Bill told us that there was a time when he made his own pasta noodles. However, since discovering a handmade pasta made by folks in Michigan, he now saves himself a bit of time and uses a product called Al Dente Pasta. In fact, he’s the customer who turned us onto it at Midtown Market, as well.
Al Dente pasta is tender, yet firm, the way pasta is meant to be served. It cooks in just three minutes and maintains the homemade texture that the Renzullis both love. (For those looking for something gluten-free, Midtown Market also carries the Al Dente gluten-free products in addition to the traditional pasta.)
“Al Dente pasta is the closest to homemade that I have found,” Bill says. For someone looking to create authentic Italian cuisine this is a fairly remarkable compliment.
As the evening went along, we all watched Bill work his magic at the chef’s table. We munched on delightful cheeses and stuffed peppers and squash. We chatted with Bill as he prepared a very tasty dish of Broccoli Rabe Supreme. The outcome of that dish was delightful. Good food and even better company always results in a night to remember.
You, too, can enjoy cooking a version of Bill’s Broccoli Rabe Supreme, using the recipe listed below.
Broccoli Rabe Supreme
You’ll need the following ingredients:
· Broccoli Rabe, coarsely chopped, stems discarded. Broccolini maybe used as a substitute.
· Penne pasta
· White mushrooms, sliced
· Olive oil
· Red pepper flakes
Here’s how to do it:
1. Cook the mushrooms in olive oil over high heat with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes until all the liquid they release is cooked off and they begin to brown.
2. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt and blanch the Broccoli Rabe for about 3-4 minutes, while heating the garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat.
4. Add the Broccoli Rabe and cook over low heat while the pasta is cooking in the water that you used for the Broccoli Rabe.
5. Add the pasta and the mushrooms to the Broccoli Rabe and mix well.
6. Serve with grade Gran Padana cheese.
Find more of Bill’s art, his recipes and his insightful comments on life in his blog, Reflections on a Life in Medicine, Art and Pasta
Photo credits: Glenn Hall Photography