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Broccoli Rabe: Bitterly Delicious

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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 

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

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