If broccoli rabe (BROK-a lee RAHB) seems elusive, perhaps it’s because it is—broccoli rabe goes by more names than a time-worn fugitive trying to dodge the FBI. Also known as broccoletti di rape, Italian broccoli, rabe, rape, brocoletto, broccoletti, cima di rabe, rapini, friarielli and American gai lan—broccoli rabe is simply a non-heading variety of broccoli.
This member of the prolific mustard clan has flavorful leaves and clusters of tiny, broccoli-like buds. In Italian, broccoli rabe means “turnip-broccoli.” Like its cousins the cabbage and the cauliflower, broccoli rabe is a cruciferous vegetable with all the good stuff that implies—this is, it’s a great source of the antioxidants that help protect against cancer. It’s high in fiber and rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as potassium, calcium and iron. Italians love this vegetable. But its acceptance beyond the Italian-American community has been slow because some find its taste bitter; in fact, it’s often been relegated to use as animal fodder.
But this is not a vegetable to be cast aside; many gourmets consider broccoli rabe far superior to conventional broccoli. Very young greens may be eaten raw in salads, but broccoli rabe is generally cooked by steaming, frying or sautéing.
- Trim tough stem bottoms and remove fibrous parts of upper stems with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.
- To subdue bitterness, blanch briefly, then shock in cold water before cooking.
- Broccoli rabe’s bite marries well with bland foods like pasta, and Italians use it in braises with sausage and tomatoes. Broccoli rabe is best when eaten shortly after picking.
- Look for firm examples with relatively few buds, and sniff the stems—avoid those with an unpleasantly bitter, mustardy smell.
By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.