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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rapini (Broccoli rabe)


Rapini, also called "Broccoli Rabe" pronounced "broccoli rob", is a green cruciferous vegetable and member of the turnip family. Contrary to its name, it is not a member of  the broccoli family.  The leaves, buds, and stems are all edible.  The buds resemble broccoli, but do not form into a head.  Rapini is known for its slightly bitter taste and is associated with Italian, Galician, and Portugese cuisines.  Rapini's flavor is described as nutty, bitter, and pungent.  

Rapini is grown throughout the world, and is available all year long, but its peak season in the Northern Hemisphere is fall to spring.  Rapini is always sold fresh.  I have never seen it canned or frozen.  Rapini is known by many names throughout the world. The stangest name though is "taitcat".  I've never heard that name before and do not know anything about its origin. 

Growing up I had heard of "Broccoli rabe".  I never heard the name "Rapini" until later in the supermarket.  Broccoli rabe was not something was my mother cooked.  I guess my parents weren't fond of its bitterness.  When thinking about Broccoli rabe, I always think of my cousin, Bobby.  Actually, he was a butcher by trade,  but after many years with a butcher shop he expanded into produce as well.   He would prepare Broccoli rabe.  It was great. 

Broccoli rabe is nutrient dense and has many health benefits.  Here are some of the claims made for Broccoli rabe:  It slows aging, strengthens bones, decreases risk of hypertension, lessens inflammation, prevents cancer, Alzheimers, strokes, and birth defects. Rapini has cancer preventing properties due to bioactive compounds called sulforaphanes.  These phytonutrients may protect agains cancers of the stomach, lung, esophagus, colon, and breast.  It also contains lutein, a phytonutrient that protects the retina of the eye from oxidative damage and may slow the progression of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Choose rapini with large dark green leaves that are crisp, upright, and not wilted.  Avoid ones with leaves that are wilted  yellowing, or have dark green patches of slime.  Refrigerate rapini  unwashed, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. 

The tough stem bottoms of rapini are easily removed before cooking.  Blanching for one minute will reduce bitterness.  Rapini can be steamed, saute'ed, stir fried, or braised.  It combines well with pasta and rice.  To prepare remove the tough bottoms of the stem, about a half inch, and rinse.  Cut crosswise into two inch pieces.  Drop into salted boiling water for one to two minutes.  Remove from water with a slotted spoon.  Saute the blanched rapini in olive oil and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes until tender.   It can be mixed with any number of things ( onions, tomatoes, sausage, etc)  and used as a side dish or as a topping for pasta.

So.... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.