Down & Dirty

Broccoli Rabe: Bitterly Delicious

By • March 22, 2013 • 6 Comments

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

1. Yellow leaves or flowers? Take a pass in favor of better, greener options
2. Does the thought of eating broccoli rabe leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth? We have ways to help.
3. Trim here and get cooking. Get ideas for every day of the week!

Broccoli rabe (pronounced “rahb”) seems like it should be a type of broccoli. Its flowers look like tiny broccoli florets, and if you stripped its stalk of leaves, you might swear it’s broccolini. You'd be wrong, but not so far off -- broccoli rabe is a member of the brassica family, although it’s more closely related to turnips than broccoli. And don't be fooled at the market: broccoli rabe masquerades under a variety of names, including broccoli raab, rapini, bitter broccoli, turnip broccoli, and broccoli di rape.

What to Look For
Choose firm, small-stemmed specimens with compact, tightly closed, dark green florets and leaves that aren’t wilted, and make sure to avoid yellow leaves and flowers. As with broccoli, the florets turn yellow as it ages, so yellow flowers are a sign that your bunch of broccoli rabe is past its prime. For extra insurance, give your stems the sniff test, and pass on any with an unpleasant smell (think off-putting cabbage aroma).

How to Store and Prep
Similar to most greens, broccoli rabe stores well in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer for 3 to 5 days. The stalks, leaves, and blossoms of the plant are all edible -- you’ll just want to trim off the base of the stem, as it can be woody. If you end up with thick-stemmed broccoli rabe despite your best efforts otherwise, simply shave or peel a bit of the stem like you would with beefy asparagus stalks.

How to Use Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe is really at its best when cooked, though nothing should stop you from tossing a few very young leaves into a salad. Its flavor is nutty, similar to mustard or turnip greens, and bitter in varying degrees -- it can change depending on your taste buds, how it’s prepared, and its age. Bitterness is part of broccoli rabe’s charm, but if you'd like, you can cut some of it by blanching before proceeding with your recipe. Check out our spirited discussions for other suggestions on how to quell the bite, and try recipes that balance the bitterness with sweetness or acidity. And if you still find broccoli rabe too bitter, well, all the more for us.

Laurie Colwin’s essay on broccoli rabe in Home Cooking convinced us that like her, perhaps we too could happily eat broccoli rabe every day of the week without tire. Want to play along? Let us know how you’ll be using broccoli rabe! Here’s our plan:

Saturday: Broccoli Rabe Potato and Rosemary Pizza
Sunday: Porcini Fried Rapini
Monday: Sicilian Sardine and Broccoli Rabe Pasta
Tuesday: Amanda’s go-to recipe, Broccoli Rabe in Lemon Cream
Wednesday: Broccoli Rabe with Savory Pine Nuts and Meyer Lemon
Thursday: Tuscan Ricotta and Broccoli Rabe Pie (Erbazzone)
Friday: Burrata Bruschetta with Broccoli Rabe

Photos by James Ransom 

Jump to Comments (6)

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, infographics, brassicas, broccoli rabe, rapini, broccoli raab, broccoli di rape, lindsay-jean hard, special diets

Comments (6)

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Lbfire

over 1 year ago LB (Laurie Beth)

Broccoli Rabe is an extension of me :) I cook and eat 2-3 times per week experimenting with recipes but always come back to my Nonna's.

Zester_003

over 1 year ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

I love the taste of bitter greens. Much more popular in Italy (and southern Europe) than in the USA. I love chicoria in the winter with an anchovy dressing.

Pict1821

over 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I first encountered broccoli rabe while living in Japan, where it was really popular as well. I'll admit it took me a couple times of it showing up in my CSA box before I figured out what to do with it, and wasn't just choking it down. Now I'm a fully converted fan of bitter greens!

L1020855

over 1 year ago CHeeb

Sauteed in olive oil with Boursin cheese melting on top is our newest way to enjoy this great green.

Me

over 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Broccoli rabe sits on my favorite pizza of all time -- with fennel sausage, mozz, and a healthy sprinkle of crushed red pepper.

Baci1

over 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

My favorite Italian deli makes sandwiches and adds sauteed broccoli rabe (w/garlic & chili flakes) as a filling. It's an incredible addition and now I can't have my hoagies without it.