We have long been grateful to the Italians for introducing us to broccoli. In recent years, more Americans have also gotten to know its cousin - broccoli rabe (pronounced ROB). While there is a distinct family resemblance, they are different vegetables.
Broccoli rabe is a non-heading variety of broccoli that's also known as rapini. It looks like a thin, leafy bunch of broccoli stalks with stunted buds. But while broccoli is rather mild green vegetable, broccoli rabe packs a punch. It has a slightly bitter flavor, like some greens, and adds punch to anything bland, like pasta.
When eaten on its own, broccoli rabe is usually steamed or lightly sauteed in olive oil. Many recipes, including the one that follows, recommend quickly cooking it first, then draining and sauteing it.
This leafy green is common in Southern Italy and has recently become popular in the United States. Italian farmers brought broccoli rabe to North America, but for a long time, it was uncommon outside Italian and Asian communities, which were not put off by its slight bitterness.
In addition to an unusual, pungent taste, broccoli rabe is nutritionally loaded. Like regular broccoli, it is low in calories and an excellent source of vitamin C, but has more beta-carotene. It contains phytochemicals called indoles, which appear to fight breast cancer. Broccoli rabe also contains isothiocyanates, substances that stimulate enzymes to detoxify carcinogens before they can begin the cancer process.
Italians cook broccoli rabe in a variety of ways including steaming, braising and frying. It is also used in soups and salads.
Broccoli rabe has 6- to 9-inch stalks. It is available year round, but its peak season is from late fall to spring. When shopping for it, look for bunches with small stems, few buds and open flowers. Clean it by rinsing quickly, then shaking off the water. Wrapped in plastic or a plastic bag, it can be stored in the refrigerator crisper for up to five days.
Keep in mind it cooks more quickly than regular broccoli and can turn soft suddenly, like other delicate greens. It takes very little time to cook. Blanching the vegetable in boiling water will take out some of its bitterness.
Spicy Broccoli Rabe
Makes 5 servings.
- 1 1/2 lbs. broccoli rabe
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2-4 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely minced
- 1/2 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste
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- Rinse the broccoli rabe in cold water and drain completely. Cut 2 inches off the stems then chop the rest into 2-inch pieces. Blanch in boiling water about 3 minutes. Drain well.
- Heat oil in saucepan large enough to hold broccoli. Add garlic and red pepper and saute quickly until garlic turns golden. Add broccoli and saute until just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Nutritional Information Per Serving:
5 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
7 g. carbohydrate,
5 g. protein,
less than 1 g. dietary fiber,
40 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 1-1/2 Vegetable