Thanks to the foodie revolution of the past decades, consumers these days have far less difficulty finding inventive, meat-free dishes. Philly's Rich Landau, owner of Vedge, is the extreme example. His restaurant's menu has featured more than two thousand daily specials on its famous Dirt List since opening in 2011. Interestingly, though, it's a carnivore's heart that guides Landau's cooking.
Despite being a longtime vegan, Landau was born and raised in meat-loving Philly, and he says that familiarity with flesh has permanently influenced his taste. "The problem was, I already had a carnivore's palate, so I had to learn how to keep that palate entertained." As a result, his vegetables are treated to all manner of carnal flavors. "People say you can't have pastrami now, but why not? Pastrami is not about the meat; it's about the spice. We're taking this stuff back."
Landau and wife Kate Jacoby (the restaurant's sommelier, cocktail mixologist, and pastry chef) collaborated on the recently released cookbook that is a guide to this vision, 'Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking.' Landau recently took the time to dish on a few of his favorite recipes and offered us tips on how he gets such big, nostalgic flavors from veggies in the land of the cheesesteak.
Broccoli Rabe Philly Style
"One of Philadelphia's greatest aspects as a food city is its blue-collar, conservative history," says Landau. While it's not such a meat-and-potatoes town anymore, Philadelphia has plenty of natives, and they still have a certain expectation. "They want real food, and that's translated into Vedge's modern dining profile. It's been a great influence on me." Landau's broccoli rabe celebrates South Philly's Italian roots with porcini powder and roasted peppers. The dish is presented in the 'Vedge' cookbook as an elegant antipasto, but the chef's favorite way to eat it is piled on a hoagie. He calls out Sarcone's, fifth-generation Philly bakers, as having the best rolls on the planet, but the more widely available Amoroso brand, a cheesesteak mainstay, will also make for a hit vegetarian version of the Philly classic.
Broccoli Rabe Philly Style
(Serves 2 to 4)
• 3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
• 4 red bell peppers
• 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
• 1 1/4 tsp salt
• 1 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• 2 bunches broccoli rabe, bottom 3 inches of stems removed, leaves and remaining stems chopped into 1-inch pieces
• 2 tbsp minced garlic
• 1 tbsp porcini powder
• 1/2 cup vegan mayo
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• Sliced bread, toasted or grilled (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, and prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Rub a sheet pan lightly with olive oil. Put the peppers on the pan and roast until they collapse, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and set aside until cool to the touch. Peel off the skins, cut the peppers in half, and remove the seeds and stems. Then slice the peppers into thin strips, and toss in a small bowl with 1 tbsp of the oil, the balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp of the salt, and 1/2 tsp of the pepper. Set aside.
Blanch the broccoli rabe in the salted boiling water for 4 minutes. Reserve 2 tbsp of the cooking water. Drain the broccoli rabe, shock in the ice bath for 5 minutes to stop the cooking, then drain thoroughly.
Heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When it begins to ripple, add the garlic and allow it to brown for about 1 minute. Add the broccoli rabe, 1/2 tsp of the salt, and 1/2 tsp of the pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the broccoli rabe wilts and turns a slightly darker shade of green, 5 to 7 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the porcini powder with the reserved 2 tbsp cooking water in a small bowl. Add the vegan mayo, mustard, and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, and whisk until creamy.
Credit: Michael Spain-Smith
If desired, spread the cream on the bread and top with the broccoli rabe and peppers. Or, if serving the broccoli rabe and peppers as an antipasto, offer the cream on the side.