Italian cooks understand the allure of bitter greens, those radicchios and arugulas and brassicas that punctuate so many dishes with bracing, fresh flavor. They also seem preternaturally inclined to understand how best to balance those flavors.

Something sweet. Something sav­ory. A bit of heat. A bit of fat. A lot of bitter. It’s an equilibrium that, when executed poorly, can leave a dish tasting unpleasantly tannic, a mess of flavors that never meld.

But done properly? It becomes a harmony that works similar to sweet-and-sour, a push-and-pull in your mouth that takes you just to the edge of unexpected, while still grounded solidly in everything delicious that makes you want more.

Bitter and savory and sweet and meaty and spicy all played perfectly together.

You see it in orecchiette con cime di rapa, the Puglian pasta dish in which bitter broccoli rabe is balanced by savory anchovies, creamy Parmesan and hits of spicy red pepper flakes. Also in Campania’s minestra maritata, a marriage of greens, savory meats, sweet vegetables and—of course—more Parmesan.

I was lucky enough to get a master class in this. Working in a kitchen high atop a terraced lemon grove along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, home cook Lina Celia proved herself a pro. She offered to teach me what may well be Italy’s platonic form for harnessing bitter greens—broccoli e salsiccia—well-browned Italian sausage tucked into a tangle of tender broccoli rabe.

Her recipe was simple. Ample olive oil, chopped garlic, onion and red pepper flakes went into a large pot. It all cooked slowly, the garlic becoming savory, the onion meltingly tender and sweetly caramelized, the oil drawing out the heat of the pepper. Eventually, robust Italian sausage rich with fennel and fat went into the pot.

Finally, the bitter greens. Broccoli rabe, in this case. Huge bunches of it. Celia knew it would wilt down to become tender-crisp, sweetening slightly as it cooked but retaining its bitter edge. Tossed with all the other ingredients, then finished with—once again, of course—Parmesan, the result was shockingly good.

Perhaps balanced is too simple a word? Bitter and savory and sweet and meaty and spicy all played perfectly together. It needed nothing more than a hunk of bread to sop up whatever didn’t cling to my fork. A master class in mastering bitter greens, for sure.