Standing alone at midnight on a dark, cold train platform somewhere in the Alps, the train bound for Florence pulled in slowly and stopped, with only one door opening near the front car. Scrambling with my luggage in tow to reach the only open door, I was met by a porter who informed me that due to a train strike I would not be boarding my sleeping car as assigned, however a few hundred lire later I was onboard, the sole passenger on a ghost train bound for Florence.
Led to a sleeping car and informed there would be no water or provisions until we reached Florence in 8 hours, I hesitantly stretched out on the bottom berth. The train creaked as it wound its way over the towering mountains in the darkness, making periodic stops at stations where shouting voices could be heard outside, leading to a boarding by the polizia to discover the sole errant passenger and after passport inspection, allowing me to carry on with my journey.
At dawn I lifted the window shade, seeing the signs for Bologna, at last Florence was near. Pulling into the station, as the only passenger exiting the train, it was not difficult for the American contact waiting to identify me and I was immediately whisked off for an espresso and the ubiquitous dry morning roll.
After checking in the pensione, I dressed for lunch, still feeling strained from the ghost train journey. The guide steered me to a local lunch haven and after descending the stairs to the brick lined basement with walls filled with bottles of wine, I was immediately seated and served a steaming bowl of soup, something forte (strong) to revive, Broccoli Rabe Soup.
This spooky train ride led me to a beautiful bowl of soup: green and vibrant, sharp and clear in taste, softened by a thick slice of fresh bread and amply drizzled olive oil. The vitamins and minerals in the intense green broccoli rabe were an instant revival. This soup is not for the faint of heart it is a super green bowl, yet it is still delicious when made with milder broccoli crowns.
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) is easily found in specialty produce markets and of course the farmers markets. This sprouting form of broccoli bears leaves and green buds that resemble small heads of broccoli carrying an intense flavor bite from the earth. Best braised, sautéed or steamed, pairing famously with the sweetness of garlic.
I enjoy this soup served with slices rustic of bread, toasted with olive oil, a rub of garlic and a shaving of Parmesan cheese. I float a few slices on top, drizzle with olive oil, allowing the bread to absorb the vibrant green broth and I of course encircle the bowl with extra slices to repeat the process a few times while enjoying the soup.
The lovely and reviving intensity of Broccoli Rabe Soup has never left my mind, along with the ghost train ride to Florence – a forte Bijouxs.
For more soups from Bijouxs, join me at Beyond the Olive, November 7th for a cooking class featuring favorite fall soups, and maybe a story or two. Looking forward!