A poster for La Mortadella, the 1971 film directed by Carlo Ponti and, by the way, written by Ring Lardner, Jr.
Recipe: Warm Chickpea Salad with Mortadella and Broccoli Rabe
Summer is cranking into gear at the New York Greenmarkets, with lots of big, scary, leafy greens on display, things that look dark and indestructible. What to do? Take them home and play with them is what I say.
Collards, mustard greens, beet tops, Swiss chard, kale—too healthy for you? I know what you mean. But I’ve also been finding big bunches of broccoli rabe, something close to every Southern Italian’s heart. The bunches I’ve seen from Migliorelli, a Greenmarket farmer based in New York State’s Hudson Valley, look almost unrecognizable alongside the stuff I find at the supermarket. They have fewer buds, more big, leafy greens, and thinner, longer stems. They are beautiful stuff that cooks up tender but with that alluring bitter and sweet taste that goes so well with any number of pork products.
Lucky for me, I’ve also happened to have on hand a chunk of mortadella, one of the few Italian pork specialties, besides prosciutto, that are legally allowed into this country. Many people don’t know you can buy real Bologna mortadella here, and it’s much better than most American brands, with smooth texture and subtle spicing, studded with little bits of fat and pistachios. What a lovely thing, and what a great match for broccoli rabe. No wonder Sophia Loren went ballistic when customs inspectors snatched the giant mortadella she tried to smuggle in through New York’s JFK Airport in the summer of 1971 (this was not real life, but a scene in the Carlo Ponti film called, fittingly enough, La Mortadella). I have to admit to sneaking many Italian sausages through airport customs myself and getting caught only once, with a beautiful soppressata from Lecce, Puglia. It broke my heart having it taken away, especially when I knew those nasty boys would only bring it into some secret back room, pop open a few bottles of confiscated Brunello, and wolf the whole thing down.
Warm Chickpea Salad with Mortadella and Broccoli Rabe
(Serves 5 as a side dish or a light supper)
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cool water to cover
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 big bunch broccoli rabe, the tough stems trimmed
1 small onion, cut into small dice
¼ pound mortadella, cut into small cubes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small, fresh, red peperoncino pepper, minced
A few sprigs of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A splash of dry white wine
A tiny drizzle of red wine vinegar
A chunk of pecorino Toscano cheese
To cook the chickpeas, drain them, and place them in a large pot. Cover them with cool water by at least 3 inches. Add the bay leaf, and turn the heat to high. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat, and let them simmer gently, partially covered, until tender, about 1½ hours, but it really depends on how hard your chickpeas are. Some can take much longer, but start testing them after about 1½ hours. Add more warm water if needed to keep the chickpeas covered. When they’re tender, season them with salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and turn off the heat. Let them sit in their warm cooking water for about a half hour (this will help tenderize them).
Drain the chick peas, saving all their cooking liquid.
Set up a large pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the broccoli rabe, and blanch for about 2 minutes. Drain it into a colander, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to set its green color. Squeeze as much water as you can from the broccoli rabe, and then chop it roughly.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the mortadella, the peperoncino, the rosemary, and the garlic, and sauté a minute longer, just to release their fragrances. Add the broccoli rabe, season with salt, and sauté for a minute or so longer. Add the chickpeas and another drizzle of olive oil, and let them warm through. Add the splash of white wine, and let it boil way. Add a cup of the chickpea cooking water, and let everything simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes, just to blend all the flavors. You should have a little liquid left in the pot (if not, add a bit more of the chickpea cooking broth). Add a few drops of red wine vinegar and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Serve in bowls, with thin slices of pecorino shaved over the top. You can eat this hot or at room temperature.