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Broccoli Raab

It may look a little like broccoli, but broccoli raab is worlds apart in terms of its intense, zesty flavor.

by Ruth Lively

fromFine Cooking
Issue 95

It goes by several names—broccoli raab, rabe, rapini—but no matter what you call it, the zesty, bitter flavor of this vibrant green vegetable is nothing short of addictive.

Only distantly related to broccoli, raab is adored in Italy. All its parts, from the deep-green toothed leaves to the slender stalks to the small florets, are edible, making it a versatile addition to all sorts of dishes.

Buying and storing: Unless you’re shopping at a farmers’ market (where you might find it loose), broccoli raab is usually sold in bundles weighing about a pound. One pound yields four servings as a side dish. When buying, look for deep, bright-green color, crisp stems, and fresh leaves. Store it unwashed in the crisper drawer for up to a few days.

Prepping: Rinse a bunch of raab by dunking and swishing in cold water and then shake off the excess moisture. Trim about 1/2 inch off the stems, or more if they seem tough. Discard any loose leaves, especially those from the outside of the bunch that look battered.

To blanch or not: Some people delight in broccoli raab’s full, undiluted flavor; I find that blanching tempers the bitter note to a more pleasing level and allows other flavors to have their say. To blanch, drop trimmed (but uncut) broccoli raab into boiling salted water. After two minutes (even if the water hasn't returned to a boil), drain and refresh under cold water. This step can be done well ahead of cooking the final dish, and from this point the vegetable requires only a few minutes of steaming, boiling, or sautéing.

How to serve it: The intense, somewhat nutty taste makes raab a distinctive foil for other assertive flavors. Classic Italian partners include garlic, red pepper flakes, anchovies, tangy black olives, sausage, sharp cheeses, and fruity olive oil. For an Asian profile, use garlic, red pepper flakes, and ginger, with splashes of soy sauce and sesame oil or oyster sauce. You can’t go wrong with citrus zest and juice. At the other end of the spectrum, bland or starchy foods such as eggs, pasta, potatoes, beans, and grains provide a neutral canvas for broccoli raab’s punch.

More ways with broccoli raab

Once it's blanched:

  • Stir-fry it with slivered garlic, ginger, and thin slices of onion, pepper, and carrot. Season with sesame oil and soy sauce, or chopped kimchi. Break an egg into the pan and stir quickly. Serve over plain rice.
  • Make a salad with cooked chickpeas that you drain and douse immediately with fruity olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, chopped shallots, minced parsley, a little grated lemon zest, and some fresh lemon juice. Gently toss with chopped broccoli raab.
  • Drizzle it with sesame oil and a splash of ponzu sauce (or a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice). Add a little freshly grated ginger and lemon zest and toss gently to coat.
  • Fold it into an omelet or frittata along with sautéed potatoes and onions. Add some Gruyère or Emmenthaler.

Once it's blanched and sautéed:

  • Add it to a sandwich on rustic bread (let the juices soak into the bread in place of a vinaigrette or spread).
  • Spoon it on crostini for a hearty snack or appetizer.
  • Roll finely chopped raab by the teaspoonful inside half slices of prosciutto and secure with toothpicks for a sophisticated hors d'oeuvre.
  • Chop it and mix into smashed red-skin potatoes with lots of fruity olive oil, roasted garlic, chopped scallions, and ground black pepper.
  • Chop it and stir into risotto toward the end of cooking along with a generous dose of grated cheese.
  • Fill a calzone with it and add smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers, and a few thin slices of leftover cooked potato.
  • Leave it whole and mix with roasted red peppers, grilled portobello mushrooms, and grilled sausages; spoon over cheesy polenta.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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