I Can't Get Enough Rapini, My All-Time Favorite Vegetable

Dense and bitter rapini – also known as broccoli rabe – is like a sophisticated version of broccoli.

rapini closeup

Pixabay

Some pregnant women crave pickles and ice cream. I craved rapini. When I was pregnant with my first child, I bought one large bunch of rapini a day and ate half for breakfast with eggs and half with dinner. I couldn't get enough of its dense, chewy stalk and bitter green leaves, likely because my fetus-growing body craved iron and it's a good source for that. My love for rapini did not end with the baby's arrival. I continued to crave it and eat it regularly, and now serve it to my children, who are somewhat less enamored by it than I and roll their eyes when I tell them it helped to grow them.

What always surprises me, though, is how many people are unfamiliar with rapini (also known as broccoli rabe or broccoletti, although it should not be confused with broccolini). They ask what it is when I mention my pregnancy craving, and I try to explain that it's a mix between broccoli and kale, with the bitterness of mustard greens and the crunchy chewiness of bok choy – but they still look puzzled. One description from Mother Earth News says rapini has "a perky, unusual flavor that you just plain won't get from any other vegetable." I guess it's one of those things that makes sense once you try it. 

So that is why I was pleased to learn that someone else is a rapini super-fan, too. In an article for the Guardian, farmer Palisa Anderson wrote an ode to this cold-loving brassica:

"Despite broccoli rabe’s misnamed reference to broccoli, it is actually a closer relative to the turnip. Like most brassicas it thrives in the cold – the colder the climate, the sweeter it is – thus in the mild winter of the NSW Northern Rivers our rapini has a pleasant bitterness to it. It contains high levels of sulforaphane and indoles, essential vitamins A, K and C, along with a good dose of folate, calcium and a higher fibre content than broccoli."

Anderson uses it in both Mediterranean and Asian-influenced dishes, where it maintains its shape, adds body to a dish, and does not shrink down to a minuscule quantity the way kale or spinach does. I prefer to eat rapini on its own, just so I can enjoy the full bitter flavor. First I trim the bottom inch of the stems, then cut the stalks into shorter lengths. I blanch them briefly in boiling water until they're barely soft (this reduces the bitterness), drain, then add to a hot pan of sautéing garlic and olive oil. After a few seconds, I add a splash or two of tamari (or soy sauce), which adds moisture and saltiness, and toss until it's done perfectly. My mouth is watering just writing this.

If your curiosity is piqued, I urge you to give it a try. Look for bright green stalks, crisp leaves, and mostly green heads that may have some small yellow flowers in them. Avoid wilted yellow or slimy leaves and limp heads, although you can perk up the stalks by standing up in cold water for an hour. Bon appétit!