This recipe was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005.

Rapini and polenta

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 Italian sausages or 2 pork rib or loin chops
1 medium white or yellow onion (with the pork chop option)
Olive oil

2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil (if you didn't use the meat)
2 to 4 cloves garlic
Dried red pepper flakes
1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)

4 cups (a scant liter) cold water
1/2 cup (120g) corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon (10g) butter


1. First, get all your ingredients measured out and organized (the practical kitchen procedure that the French call mise en place or "put in place"), so you don't have to fool around with chopping or searching for items at the last minute. So, peel the onion (if you're using the pork chops) and slice it into thick rings. Rinse the rapini and chop it coarsely - I generally just cut across the bunch, whacking leaves, florets and stems into 1-inch sections. Peel the garlic and mince it fine, and measure out and assemble the other ingredients.

2. If you're choosing the meat option, you'll want to cook the pork chops or sausages first, then hold them in a warm (200F/95C) oven while you finish up the rapini and polenta. If you're making pork chops, sautee the sliced onions in a large, heavy skillet in a little oil until they start to brown, then put in the chops, sear on both sides, and cook covered over low heat until they're done, about 10 to 30 minute depending on thickness. (See last week's recipe for some thoughts on cooking pork chops.) For the sausages, simply put them over medium heat in a heavy skillet until they're browned and cooked through. Either way, put the finished meat on an ovenproof plate and keep it in the warm oven while you do the rest.

3. Take the skillet you used for the meat and pour off excess fat (or, for the vegetarian version, start with a clean skillet and put in the olive oil). Put it over medium heat and sautee the minced garlic and red-pepper flakes until the garlic becomes aromatic and starts to turn golden. Put in all the washed, chopped rapini, add salt to taste, and stir it over high heat until it starts to wilt. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rapini is tender but the stems are still a little al dente. (OPTION: Simmer the rapini for a few minutes in salted water, then drain before sauteeing, if you want to reduce the bitterness. But then ... why are you cooking rapini anyway?)

4. While the greens are simmering, make this quick, non-traditional (and easy) polenta. Put the cold water in a saucepan and stir in the cornmeal and salt, using a whisk or wooden spoon. (The traditional process calls for ever-so-carefully pouring a thin stream of corn meal into boiling water while you stir like a maniac to prevent lumps. Seems like an awful lot of trouble, since the cold-water method guarantees no lumps.) Once you've mixed the cornmeal and water into a smooth slurry, turn heat to high and cook, stirring often, until the water comes to a boil, whereupon the polenta will almost immediately thicken. Turn the heat down to very low before you have a Mount St. Helens-style eruption, and continue cooking for a few minutes, stirring now and then. It will thicken and become more smooth with cooking time, but standard commercial cornmeal (Quaker brand or equivalent) really doesn't need more than 5 to 10 minutes to become polenta. When the greens are ready, turn off heat under the cornmeal and stir in the butter and cheese until they're melted and well distributed.

Serve the rapini over the polenta with the pork chops or sausages (if used) on the side.

I made this dish twice this week, once with pork chops and once with sausages, and matched the wine to the meat course in each instance. The pork chops were a fine match with a hearty California Italian-style red, Mosby 2002 "La Seduzione" French Camp Vineyard California Lagrein. The sausages were a stunning match with the new-wave Southern French red featured in this week's Wine Advisor Premium Edition, L'Ostal Cazes 2002 Minervois la Lavinière. Matching wine to rapini and polenta alone would be a more interesting challenge. I'm thinking of a bold, forward Sauvignon Blanc to address the veggie's bitter green herbal nature.