Ingredient Introduction #17 – Broccoli Rabe

One of my favorite perks of fresh produce is the color.

I see meat as Kansas and vegetables/fruit as Oz.

For this ingredient introduction I spent a little time in the Emerald City.

Meet broccoli rabe (rob). It also answers to rapini.

It kind of looks like a bouquet a broccoli bride might carry down the aisle. It’s leafy, with little clusters that resemble broccoli crowns.

But, this vegetable is a closer relative to the turnip, and even mustard greens. This isn’t baby broccoli.

The flavor is very pungent, and almost bitter. It kinda resembles the nuttiness of creamed spinach.

It’s usually served as a side dish. Chop it, and sauté it in oil and garlic, or blanche it, then sauté it. But I think it has more to offer. Plus, my partner in cuisine crime doesn’t like the flavor of cooked spinach, so I tried to lessen the blow.

I made grilled chicken pasta with fire roasted tomatoes and rapini.

Here’s what you need:

1 bunch of rapini, washed and dried
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano, ground in your hands
1 tsp sugar
Olive oil
I box of whole grain spaghetti
Grilled chicken
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Optional garnish: extra virgin olive oil & mozzarella cheese

For the chicken, I rubbed olive oil on halved boneless skinless chicken breasts, then sprinkled each side with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Grill until charred on both sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. You can also use shredded rotisserie chicken, but I find the crustiness of the charred chicken, stands out from the creamy pasta.

Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the box.

Cut 1/2 inch off the bottom of the rapini stems. Then, chop the rapini into big chunks.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Swirl in some olive oil. Add in the garlic (I used Spring garlic from the farmers’ market).

Once the garlic fragrant, toss in the rapini pieces and stir, making sure you coat the leaves with the garlic oil. Swirl in some more olive oil, sprinkle in salt and pepper, and stir. Lower the heat to medium.

The rapini will begin to wilt and cook down. It becomes a beautiful vibrant green. After about 5 minutes, add in the tomatoes, and a pinch of salt. Stir.

Add in the pepper flakes, oregano, and sugar (helps combat a little of the bitterness of the broccoli rabe and the acidity of the tomatoes). Stir.

Let this cook down until the pasta is done. It’ll thicken. The greens will be thin and wilted. The stems will soften. Taste it. If it needs salt. Add a good pinch.

When the pasta is done, take a 1/2 cup of the water and stir into the sauce. Using tongues, transfer the pasta into the pan. Stir. Then add another 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

The starch in the water helps the sauce stick to the noodles. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

To serve, mound the pasta on a plate, top with a sliced grilled piece of chicken. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella.

First of all, I adore the colors of this dish. The red and green make me think of Italy.

There’s a light heat from the pepper flakes. The sauce is holding onto the noodles for dear life. The tomatoes are chunky and hearty. The rapini is tender and subtle. You get a slight bitterness, but the creaminess of the pasta plays well with it.

My spinach-hating partner in cuisine crime loved the dish, but said the rapini was his least favorite part of it. I still view that as a success.

If you don’t like spinach, I do think you’ll be able to appreciate this. If you like collard greens, you’ll really like it.

Rapini is loaded with vitamins K, A, and C. It gives you plenty of minerals and a bit of protein.

I think sautéed rapini would be perfect in an omelette or on a sandwich with roasted vegetables or eggplant.

Definitely try the pasta recipe. I’m fighting the urge to dig into the leftovers sitting in the fridge. They’re reserved for tomorrow’s lunch.

You don’t need a yellow brick road to find this one. Just hit the produce section. Oh, and leave the broomstick at home.

Tip: Don’t confuse rapini/broccoli rabe with broccolini. The latter is a registered trademark name for baby broccoli. It’s not young broccoli. It’s actually a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. You’ll find it to be sweet, and tender. Try grilling or roasting it. Or cook it like you would regular broccoli. Yum!


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