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What Is Broccoli Rabe?
Broccoli rabe or broccoli raab is a common name for rapini, a bright green cruciferous vegetable with edible leaves, buds, and stems. Though it appears similar to broccoli, broccolini, and Chinese broccoli, it is, in fact, most closely related to turnips.
Of either Chinese or Mediterranean origin, the vegetable likely descends from a wild herb related to turnips and has been cultivated for quite some time. It is now most closely associated with Italian cuisines, particularly southern Italy as in Naples, Calabria, and Apulia. It is also prominent in Galician and Portuguese cooking. Broccoli rabe is grown across the globe and available year-round, though its peak season is fall to spring; 90% of the broccoli rabe grown in the United States comes from California.
What Does Broccoli Rabe Look Like?
From top to bottom, a typical bundle of broccoli rabe is roughly eight to ten inches long. Broccoli rabe has long, light green stems that give way to dark green, spiky leaves. These leaves surround small broccoli-like buds and occasionally yellow flowers.
Because of this leaf and bud combination, bunch broccoli rabe looks like a cross between turnip greens and broccoli/broccolini. Broccoli rabe buds resemble smaller, less compact broccoli heads and their long stalks and pointy green leaves more closely resemble turnip greens.
What Does Broccoli Rabe Taste Like?
When properly prepared, broccoli rabe tastes slightly bitter at the stem, while the leaves and buds are nutty and pungent but not as bitter as the stems. The buds taste similar to broccoli heads.
Some describe broccoli rabe overall taste as similar to bitter greens such as mustard. The bitterness (particularly in the stem) of broccoli rabe can easily be neutralized through blanching.
How Is Broccoli Rabe Used in Cooking?
Broccoli rabe is used in a wide variety of dishes, most commonly those from Italy, particularly the Italian south. In Italian cuisine, it is most frequently used as:
- A side dish for pork entrées including ribs and sausages. This is especially common in southern Italian cuisines.
- A leafy ingredient in pastas, commonly combined with sausage and parmesan cheese.
- A topping on hot Italian sandwiches, typically paired with provolone cheese and roast beef.
- A variation of pesto, made by blending down broccoli rabe, olive oil, and nuts and serving over pasta or spread on sandwiches, or as a dip.
Apart from Italian preparations, broccoli rabe is also a common ingredient in several other dishes:
- Stir-fries that can be made by sautéing broccoli rabe with a protein (commonly pork) and other ingredients in a large skillet over medium-high heat. It is typically served with rice or pasta with soy sauce.
- Omelets and frittatas, where roasted leaves, buds, and stalks can all be incorporated into the egg mixture.
- Italian-American dishes like pizzas and lasagnas where it is used as a topping and filling, respectively.
How to Blanch Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe is commonly blanched in boiling salt water before it is cooked: this coaxes out the vegetable’s sweeter side, neutralizing some of its bitterness.
- Boil for two minutes total time in water and kosher salt over medium heat in a large pot.
- Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the vegetable from the boiling water.
- Submerge it in cold water or ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Bathe it in extra virgin olive oil before further cooking.
Once blanched, broccoli rabe can be served al dente as is, but it also proves a diverse ingredient that can then be further cooked in many ways.
5 Ways to Serve Broccoli Rabe
Since the entire broccoli rabe plant is edible, it needs very little preparation before cooking.
- Sautée it over low heat in extra virgin olive oil with onions, garlic, and black pepper to make a simple and delicious side dish, or to add to a main dish.
- Combine it with olive oil and nuts in a blender to make a broccoli rabe pesto.
- Roast it like you would broccoli in the oven at medium-high heat until crisp. It can then be served alone, with other roasted vegetables, or added to sandwiches.
- Broccoli rabe is commonly a leafy addition to Italian-American pasta, often paired with spicy Italian sausage, parmesan cheese, and black and red pepper.
- Sautéed broccoli rabe with red chili flakes, garlic cloves, and guanciale, is a common side dish for pork recipes like grilled ribs, porchetta, and Italian sausages.
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