Big Little Recipes

A Cheesy, Creamy Broccoli Rabe Gratin in 3 Ingredients

October 20, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re making a dish that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

A few fun facts about broccoli rabe: It’s also known as broccoli raab and rapini. It first arrived in the U.S. thanks to Italian farmers in the early 20th century. It’s a cousin to the cabbage and turnip. And it’s often used as animal fodder.

Today, we’re working with a haul of broccoli rabe—three bunches!—but we aren’t feeding it to livestock. We’re turning it into a holiday-worthy gratin. All you need are two other ingredients: heavy cream and sharp cheddar.

The inspiration comes by way of one of my favorite cookbooks, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle-based chef Renee Erickson. Along with herring butter toasts and caraway-braised cabbage, she writes about an extra cozy, highly achievable lacinato kale gratin:

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Top Comment:
“Anyway I would love to know the gram/kilo weight of 3 bunches of broccoli rabe so I get the ratio / cream / cheese spot on! Gratin = gra like grass, tin like tan without pronouncing the N too heavily Thank you!! ”
— michelle

“The leaves on the edges get fluttery and crisp, while the center turns into a melting pot of kale, cream, and cheese.”

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele.

The trick is to not just fill, but overfill a baking dish with greenery, douse with an unshy quantity of cream, top with cheddar, and call it a day. This will look preposterous, unbelievable, even wrong, at first. But the scorching oven will wilt the all roughage, which will turn silky in the cream, with Frito-crisp corners and a blistered cheddar top.

While kale is earthy and mineraly and gets along with just about anyone, broccoli rabe is less of a crowd-pleaser in America. It’s bracing and bitter and doesn’t care if you like it. Think of this gratin as the mediator—the buttery-sweet cream and salty-rich cheese serve as bridges, leading broccoli rabe skeptics toward their newfound admiration for the vegetable.

While Chef Erickson’s kale gratin calls in nutmeg, Big Little staples kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper more than do the trick here. Stirring these into the cream—versus just sprinkling on top—ensures that the gratin is confidently seasoned throughout.

Of course this would be a dream at Thanksgiving, next to the turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. My recipe testing setup was more low-key—my husband and I eating on the couch, straight from the dish, with a nearby loaf of bread for tearing and dunking. But I highly recommend this approach too.

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  • Catherine Scott
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  • Andria
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  • michelle
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Catherine S. October 25, 2020
Andria and Michelle, PLEASE read Lucien’s post, and don’t forget to roll your r.
Andria October 25, 2020
I think we're on the same page! Either way, its pronounced delicious.
Andria October 25, 2020
Love your videos and recipes. Its pronounced Grah-tan with an emphasis on the tan and a slightly silent letter N.
Grah-tan! Lol... I'm going to make the rapini dish. (brocolluli rave also known as rapini!)
Max October 25, 2020
Hi Emma, thank you for yet another good recipe. I would cut the bottom of the stems off, up to the first leaf, to eliminate the "woody" part. As an aside, Italians call broccoli rabe "broccoli di rape (pronounced rah-peh)." They also call arugula "rucola." Wedding soup is "minestra maritata" - a marriage of a vegetable stew with meat. I could go on . . .
Rocky October 23, 2020
Emma - sounds / looks like something I'll cook tomorrow if I can find the greens in my market. How about a little nutmeg in the cream - maybe? I for sure cannot get cheddar where I am so I'll have to try something else. I'll let you know..
I first had this green in Italy…. cooked with "orecchiette" pasta. It's a typical dish from Apulia. Over in the area of Naples they'll put on pizza and add some sweet sausage.
michelle October 21, 2020
This looks great! Here in Belgium we find broccoli rabe in small bunches, they even call it “ aspergbroccoli” as if it’s a relative from asparagus (maybe it is?!)

Anyway I would love to know the gram/kilo weight of 3 bunches of broccoli rabe so I get the ratio / cream / cheese spot on!

Gratin = gra like grass, tin like tan without pronouncing the N too heavily

Thank you!!
Emma L. October 21, 2020
Hi! 3 bunches would be about 28 to 30 ounces (794 to 850 grams).
Lucien October 22, 2020
An aside to fellow North Americans: Since the English word "grass" is pronounced "grahss" by many Europeans, the "a" in the first syllable of "gratin" is "ah."

The "i" in "-tin" is a nasalized vowel sound. By shooting the vowel through our noses, we can drop the final "n" altogether.

We'll let this nice Frenchman have the last word:

: )