How to Cook Broccoli Rabe

by Joanne Thomas

Broccoli rabe is a leafy green vegetable with spiky leaves and small green buds, more akin to turnip or mustard greens than to its stouter namesake. The quick-to-cook vegetable is a good substitute for other leafy greens such as spinach, cabbage and collards, although its distinctly bitter flavor is not to everyone’s taste. Broccoli rabe is commonly used in southern Italy and has a particular affinity with that region’s cuisine, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with this versatile veg.

Tips

  • Broccoli rabe is also known as rapini. Do not confuse it with broccolini, which is a hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan, and only distantly related to broccoli rabe.

Prepping Broccoli Rabe

Wash broccoli rabe under cold running water and shake off the excess water. The bottom portions of the stems can be tough and fibrous, so trim off at least the bottom inch with a sharp knife. All that remains is edible. Either slice the leaves into smaller pieces before cooking, or cook them whole.

Blanching

To blanch broccoli rabe, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, plunge the prepped leaves into the pot and boil them for approximately three minutes. Strain the broccoli rabe in a colander or sieve, then run it under cold water or plunge it into a bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking process and prevents the broccoli rabe from overcooking and becoming soggy. A major benefit to blanching is that it tones down the natural bitterness of broccoli rabe.

Blanched broccoli rabe can be eaten as-is, sauteed in olive oil with a little garlic for a few minutes, or added to various dishes. Try some of the following:

  • Add it to an omelet, frittata or quiche
  • Stir it into a pasta sauce or include it in a baked pasta dish such as vegetable lasagna
  • Chop it into smaller pieces to toss with a grain salad or stir into a pilaf
  • Blitz it into a pesto with olive oil, pine nuts and garlic
  • Layer it under some strong cheese for an open-faced grilled sandwich

Braising

Add broccoli rabe to full-flavored braised dishes for the final few minutes of cooking time, or braise it alone as a side dish. For the cooking liquid, use stock, wine or chopped tomatoes. Start by sauteing a few aromatics, such as onions and garlic, before adding the liquid and broccoli rabe. It takes only about five minutes for the greens to become tender. Braised dishes suitable for the addition of broccoli rabe include Italian sausage with peppers and pasta, minestrone soup, red wine-braised short ribs and Moroccan-spiced chickpea stew.

Sauteing and Stir-Frying

In a hot skillet or wok with a little oil, broccoli rabe wilts and becomes tender in only a few minutes. If you're including it in a stir-fry, cook all the other vegetables first, then add broccoli rabe at the very end. Saute broccoli rabe over medium heat with oil and seasonings for a few minutes, turning frequently as the leaves wilt.

Broiling

Broiling broccoli rabe gives it a nice toasted flavor and crisp edges. Keeping the leaves whole, toss them with olive oil, salt and thinly sliced garlic, then broil the leaves for about two minutes. Turn the broccoli rabe once and broil the second side for two more minutes. This preparation works well for a warm salad. Top a bed of broiled broccoli rabe with roasted vegetables, a sliced rare steak or crispy bacon and poached eggs.

Seasonings and Serving Suggestions

Broccoli rabe's strong and bitter flavor can overpower milder ingredients, so include it in your recipes judiciously. Season it liberally with salt and pepper, or choose a combination of seasonings that can hold their own alongside broccoli rabe, such as lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, nutmeg or mustard. As a southern Italian staple, broccoli rabe works well with recipes featuring tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, wine and cheeses. Asian sauces and seasonings, including soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil and ginger, also complement broccoli rabe. Southern U.S.-style greens, cooked low and slow with a ham hock, are another a good vehicle for this robust vegetable.

About the Author

A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.