Broccoli rabe is very trendy with chefs right now, as are pretzel rolls. I won't get started regarding what I think about the originality (or lack thereof) of some of the new young chefs, but it's a safe bet that any hot new restaurant you walk into will have at least three things - pork belly something-or-other, big bad microbrews, and house-made charcuterie in some form. I think it's the pork belly and charcuterie (prepared meat products like sausage) that have in turn caused the popularity of broccoli rabe because they go so well together - the bitter greens balance and cut through the fattiness/spiciness of the pork or sausage. And they all go together with those big hoppy microbrews.
Anyway, I've seen enough versions of that particular trend that I decided to create my own version using spicy Italian turkey sausage, provolone, broccoli rabe pesto and mini pretzel rolls. The broccoli rabe pesto is a fairly unique rendition of the vegetable created by The Publican, one of the aforementioned hot new restaurants in Chicago. And why sliders rather than full-sized sandwiches? The rational answer would be that these are all really big flavors so putting them in smaller packages makes sense. The real answer is because sliders are really hot right now also, so I decided to go all in with my trip to Trendyland.
Here's a quick intro to broccoli rabe: also called rapini or broccoli raab, it consists of spiky leaves and small heads of florets that look somewhat like broccoli. Wikipedia describes the flavor as "nutty, bitter and pungent". (In my opinion that might be a little overly dramatic. It's slightly bitter with a taste similar to kale or spinach.) In Italian cooking it's often sauteed with garlic and a few crushed red peppers to serve along pork ribs or sausage (do I detect a theme here?).
For the pesto, the broccoli raab is briefly cooked in hot water to set the bright green color, then shocked and drained, chopped, and cooked low and slow with a little olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes until soft. The final step is to coarsely puree to a pesto consistency.
About the red pepper flakes - the original recipe called for an entire teaspoon, but the pesto is paired with prosciutto in the original recipe which is a mild, sweet meat. I cut the red pepper in half since I was using spicy sausage. We were happy with the results - I would call the sliders spicy but not overly so. Depending on your spice tolerance you may want to start with an even smaller amount of red pepper because you can always add more later. And about the spicy sausage - you could of course use mild Italian turkey sausage or your favorite variety of pork sausage instead.
The rest of the recipe is really easy - just shape and cook the sausage patties, melt some cheese on top, and assemble.
You can think of the sliders as appetizers, dinner, or party food but don't call them that because it would reveal that you are several iterations behind the trendy curve. They are now called "Small Plates" when served 2 or 3 at a time and "Plates for Sharing" when served in larger quantities. (Clearly I've been hanging out in a few too many trendy restaurants lately.)
The Lawyer and I really enjoyed the sliders and yes, they were particularly good with a beer. Apparently the chefs know what they're doing.
Here's how to complete your own personal trip to Trendyville:
1.Have one or both arms tattooed from shoulder to wrist.
2.Assuming you don't already have one, build a nice large rooftop patio on your house complete with speakers and a large flat screen showing old cartoons with the sound turned off.
3.Make a trip to the store to buy several types of hoppy local microbrews with whimsical names, preferably angry ones.
4.Make your sliders.
5.Invite your hippest friends over. They will see you in a whole new light. Guaranteed.
Sausage Sliders with Broccoli Rabe Pesto
Makes 10 sliders, approximately 2 ounces each
Note: Depending on your preference for spiciness, you may want to start with the lower amount of red pepper flakes especially if you are using spicy sausage.
1 lb broccoli rabe, about one bunch
6 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ cup olive oil
¼ - ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (see note)
½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 teaspoons honey
19.75 ounce package hot or sweet Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
10 slices provolone cheese, cut to fit your slider buns
10 slider buns (white, wheat or pretzel)
For broccoli rabe pesto: Cook broccoli rabe in a large pot of boiling water until bright green, about 30 seconds; drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and pat with a clean towel to dry. Cut into 1” pieces.
In the same large pot, combine the oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and broccoli rabe. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the broccoli rabe is very soft, about 40-50 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse to a rough pesto consistency. Let cool slightly, then mix in Pecorino and honey. (Pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead, covered and chilled.)
For sliders: Form the sausage into 10 small patties. Cook either on a grill or in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil until browned and fully cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side. During the last seconds of cooking time put a piece of cheese on each patty to melt. While the patties are cooking, spread some broccoli rabe pesto on both sides of the buns. Assemble buns with sausage patties.