From where I stand, all the stars are aligned for the veggie melt to have its moment. With chefs putting vegetables at the center of the plate, the popularity of toasts in general, and our collective love of melted cheese, it just makes sense. A typical diner-style melt, as you probably know, involves slices of yellow cheese melted over a meat patty or tuna salad, served either open-faced or as a sandwich. This recipe is a spin on the open-faced version, but vegetable-centric and more healthful, with a fresh, contemporary feel.
The idea, which came to me as I was contemplating what to do with broccoli rabe leftover from a previous night’s dinner, is to pile the savory cooked vegetable onto toasted bread, blanket it lightly with cheese — just enough to add rich, melty unctuousness while keeping the overall dish healthfully balanced — and then broil it until the cheese is bubbly and the toast is crisp and nicely browned. The broccoli rabe I had that day, which had been blanched, sautéed with sliced garlic, and spiked with pepper flakes and lemon juice, seemed destined to be topped with a slice of boldly flavorful provolone cheese, for a melt that turned out so satisfying, I’m sharing the recipe for it here.
After devouring it, I couldn’t help but dream of all the veggie melt possibilities ahead. Any number of cooked vegetables could be the focal point — grilled, sautéed or roasted zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions and/or mushrooms, a mound of cooked, seasoned greens such as spinach or Swiss chard, or a scoop of ratatouille, for example. For cheese options, you could go with any easily meltable variety such as fontina, mozzarella, cheddar or Monterrey Jack.
Served as a starter, side or vegetarian main, the veggie melt is such a simple and practical concept, but one that’s so ripe with possibilities, I see a bright future for it ahead.
Broccoli Rabe Provolone Melts
30 minutes | 3 to 6 servings
The cooked broccoli rabe can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. If using, add the lemon just before serving, and warm in a skillet or return to room temperature before making the toasts.
2 to 3 tablespoons (optional) plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1 large head broccoli rabe (about 1 pound), stems trimmed (may substitute with broccolini or baby broccoli)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more for serving
1 lemon, juiced (optional)
6 slices crusty Italian bread, ideally whole grain (the wider slices from the center of the loaf; 6 ounces total)
3 slices (3 ounces) provolone cheese, halved
Bring a large pot of water (salted with 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt, optional) to a boil and prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Add the broccoli rabe to the boiling water and, once the water returns to a boil, cook for 30 to 60 seconds, until slightly tender and bright green. Transfer to the ice bath to cool completely, about 1 minute, then to a towel-lined plate and pat until dry. Chop the broccoli rabe.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broccoli rabe, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until warmed through and tender, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, if using, over the broccoli rabe and toss to combine. Taste and add more juice as needed.
Position an oven rack to 5 to 6 inches from the broiler and preheat the broiler.
Brush both sides of the bread lightly with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Place the bread on a broiler pan and broil for about 1 minute per side or until lightly toasted, watching carefully to prevent burning. (If your broiler is on the bottom, transfer the pan to the broiler drawer.)
Transfer the toasts to a clean work surface. Pile each toast with the broccoli rabe, then top each with half of a slice of the cheese. Return the toasts to the broiler pan and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Lightly sprinkle each toast with additional crushed red pepper flakes, if desired, and serve.
Nutrition (based on 6 servings) | Calories: 203; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 6 mg; Sodium: 302 g Carbohydrates: 17 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 7 g