Author Notes: I will never forget the day that I met my husband Gabe’s grandmother. It was my first trip to Miami and we went to visit her at her house. There was no doubt in my mind that the purpose was for her to check me out and decide if I was good enough for her grandson. I don’t speak much Spanish, though, and she didn’t speak English, so I was nervous about how it would go.
I felt at ease as soon as we ventured into her sun-filled back room. We sat and “talked” with Gabe’s mom and aunt doing the translating. After a bit, they lapsed into Spanish and the translation stopped. Hmmm. I knew they were talking about me, and eventually, I braved it and asked what they were saying. Gabe leaned over and told me, “She said that it’s great that you have big legs — not too skinny.” Well as a girl that has worked hard not to be labeled “big,” I was completely thrown. But it only took a minute before I realized, I love this family!
And that was before that I knew that she was a fantastic cook. She invited Gabe and me over one day for the sole purpose of showing us how to make harina. She served it with picadillo, a tasty ground beef dish laced with olives and peppers. When we became vegetarians, we realized that we needed an alternative that would still offer a balance to the harina.
The bitter greens are an excellent complement to the sweetness of the cornmeal and the egg yolk creates a sauce that unifies the dish. The crispiness of the egg adds texture. Ideally, as you cut into the egg, the yolk will run over the rabe and harina and create a delcious, gooey mess. Comfort food at its best!
medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
tablespoons olive oil, divided
medium bunches broccoli rabe, bottom inch or so trimmed
cups fine yellow cornmeal
cups milk (skim, whole, or a combination)
tablespoons unsalted butter
- In a small mortar and pestle, pound the of the 3 cloves of garlic with one teaspoon of salt until it becomes a thick pulp. Set aside.
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and add the remaining garlic cloves. Cook the garlic just until it bcomes golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the pepperoncini, give it a quick stir into the oil, and add the broccoli rabe. Cover the pan until the rabe begins to wilt, approximately 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and saute the rabe until it is tender but still retains some of its bright green color, 2 to 3 more minutes. Set the pan aside.
- Warm about 3 cups of milk in a microwave or in a small pan. Put the harina into a large pot over medium heat. While stirring with a wooden spoon, add the milk in a slow steady stream. Continue to stir vigorously as you add the milk so that the cornmeal does not clump. (Note: if you stop stirring to take pictures of what you are doing, you will get lots of lumps. If you keep stirring, though, eventually most of these will come out.) Once you have added the 3 cups of milk, add the garlic-salt mixture and continue to stir.
- Keep the milk jar handy. As the mixture thickens, continue to add milk a cup at a time (this milk need not be warm). This process is not an exact science. You are aiming for a smooth, creamy texture that is about the consistency of grits or thin oatmeal. It took me about 30 minutes and 5 additional cups of milk to get to this point.
- Gabe knows the harina is ready when it starts to produce large bubbles — mini volcanoes, really — when he stops stirring. The harina should be thick enough to stick to the spoon when you pull it out of the mixture. The easiest way for me to tell when the harina is done is to taste it. If the harina is not fully cooked, the individual grains of cornmeal will still be hard when you bite into them. Once the harina is finished cooking, it will still retain a bit of graniness, but when you bite into an individual grain, you will not get any resistance.
- When the harina is finished, taste it and add more salt if you like. Stir and cover it while you fry the eggs. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium high heat. Depending on the size of your cooking surface, you may be able to cook multiple eggs at once. Be sure to give each egg lots of room so that you can flip it without breaking the yolk.
- Add about a teaspoon each of butter and olive oil to the pan for each egg. When the butter has melted and begins to sizzle, add the eggs one at a time. Cook until the edges are brown and crispy and the egg white begins to firm up. Flip and cook the other side for about 15 seconds. To plate the dish, ladel a couple of scoops of harina into a shallow bowl, add the broccoli rabe, and top with an egg.
- Note that as the harina sits, it will thicken. If you want to thin it again, heat it, add more milk, and stir vigorously until it is smooth again. Leftovers will solidify. You can cut them into pieces and fry them or heat them and eat them with a bit of sugar sprinkled on it, as Gabe’s grandfather used to do.