Vibrant green scents are indelibly associated with spring—the sticky sap covering young buds, the first green blades of grass, the delicate fragrance of spring flowers. In perfumery, the family of green notes is extensive, ranging from the essences of galbanum, petitgrain, basil, and violet leaf to the recreations of fig leaves, ivy, fresh cut grass and cucumber skin. The classical green grand parfums like Balmain Vent Vert, Estee Lauder Alliage and Chanel No 19 rely on the vegetal verdancy of galbanum for an explosive green effect, while Bond no 9 Gramercy Park, Chanel Bel Respiro and Marc Jacobs Grass are accented with the new generation of aroma-materials that give them a more subtle green facet. Admittedly, I find the modern green compositions too tame for my taste, especially when my spring scent explorations lead to such intense discoveries on the market stands as bitterly green dandelion leaves, spicy kale and my absolute favorite—broccoli rabe (also known as broccoletti, broccoli di rape, cime di rapa, raab or rapini.)
The intensely green scent of broccoli rabe is accented with a wonderful peppery note, which sets it apart from the more familiar bunched broccoli. It has small clusters, long crunchy stems and abundant foliage. Its taste is likewise green, yet undeniably bitter, which is usually tempered by blanching. This spring, while I figure out how to capture such an exhilarating greenness in perfume, I have been making a rather simple dish of pasta that showcases the vibrant beauty of broccoli rabe. This combination of the wheaty taste of pasta with greens, olive oil, garlic, black pepper and chili pepper is one of those perfect pairings that, in my opinion, cannot be improved upon (although some grated parmesan is a welcome addition.) Why do I love this dish so much? Well, beside its great taste, it is super easy to assemble, it takes about 20 minutes from pan to table, and it looks very festive on the plate. And should I mention that broccoli rabe is one of the most healthful foods available?
I wish I could take any credit for this recipe, but it is a traditional Italian dish that can be found in various regions of the country. Another delicious combination I tried was a Ligurian version, in which potato cubes were added along with broccoli rabe. Just google “pasta with broccoli rabe,” and you will discover numerous variations. Or check out Mark Bittman’s recipe of spaghetti with broccoli rabe, toasted garlic and bread crumbs in the New York Times.
Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic, Black Pepper and Olive Oil
Serves 2 as a one dish meal; 4 if part of a multi-course dinner
1 bunch of broccoli rabe
1/2lb (250g) of pasta (I like short shapes like penne or fusilli, but it is up to you)
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
¼-1/2 teaspoon red hot chili flakes
Actually, there is hardly a recipe to write. Place a large pot filled water to boil. Salt it well once boiling. Meanwhile, wash broccoli rabe, making sure that there is no sand left clinging to the leaves. Cut it into ½ inch pieces, stalks and leaves included. Set aside.
Once the water comes to boil, add your choice of pasta and stir. Set the timer for the necessary time, as specified on the pasta packet. 5-7 minutes before the pasta is ready, add the broccoli rabe.
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan, add minced garlic and chili flakes. Garlic will take only a few seconds to turn pale gold, which is all that is needed. Remove from the heat.
Cook pasta till al dente (broccoli should be done by this time as well) and drain, reserving a little bit of its cooking water. Toss pasta and greens into the garlic scented oil, stir to coat, add lots of freshly ground black pepper—it serves to accentuate the delicious peppery bite of broccoli rabe—and serve immediately. Drizzle with some more olive oil and sprinkle parmesan on top, if desired. Even if spring is a bit late this season, I promise that the fragrance of this dish will make up for it!
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.