How to shop for and cook delicious green leafy rapini, otherwise known as broccoli rabe. It’s simply delicious with just garlic, olive oil and fresh red chili.
Green Superfoods – especially kale – have been “trending” for a while. Now, it seems like there’s a kale salad on the menu of every restaurant I’ve visited over the past six months. I couldn’t be happier. I LOVE me a plate of Tuscan kale, raw or cooked.
But I’m thinking that maybe kale is the gateway green to other dark and mysterious vegetables…….like rapini.
I’ve been familiar with rapini (also called broccoli raab or rabe) since I was a kid, when I knew it as “robbie”.
My grandmother would occasionally put a bowl of slow-cooked robbie on the Sunday table. I’m pretty sure I was seriously afraid of it back then. After the long braising, the greens would go very limp and turn dusky, blackish-green, the same texture and color of the seaweed that got tangled in my feet at the beach. Not very appealing to a little girl who was just looking forward to a plate of macaroni and a meatball.
In parts of New England and especially in Rhode Island where I grew up, broccoli rabe is still very familiar. It’s on the menu of mom-and-pop Italian delis, generously piled in grinder sandwiches with or without grilled sausage and provolone cheese.
Rapini (broccoli rabe) is classified as a brassica, the same family as cabbage and broccoli, but it’s more closely related to turnip greens than it is to broccoli.
When I’m shopping, I look for leaves that are uniformly dark green, with lots of tight little flower buds. Sometimes I find a bunch of rapini with its buds about to open to yellow flowers; a sign that it’s over the hill. I pass it by.
The lower stems can be tough and fibrous; I trim off about a third of the bunch, keeping the thin upper leafy stems and buds. Rapini has a slightly bitter bite, tempered by briefly blanching it in boiling salty water, which also preserves its beautiful emerald green color.
I say briefly because unlike the way my mama made it, rapini doesn’t take very long to cook at all.
After blanching, I like to toss the greens with chili, garlic and olive oil (aglio e olio); they are delicious tossed with pasta, over creamy, cheesy polenta or piled on crusty toasted bread as a bruschetta.
Red chili rapini with olive oil and garlic
Yield 4 - 6 side dish servings
Serve the rapini as a side dish, over creamy polenta, or as a bruschetta on toasted, crusty bread.
- 1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 fresh red chili pepper, thinly sliced
- Pinch dried red chile flakes
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Trim off the lower, thick stems of the rapini; cut the remaining green leafy tops and buds into smaller pieces, drop into the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess water.
- Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, fresh and dried chili and cook for a minute or so, until sizzling and fragrant (but don't brown the garlic).
- Add the rapini to the pan and toss to coat with the garlicky oil. Remove from heat and season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with the pecorino.
- Serve as a topping for polenta, pasta, or bruschetta.