Falsetti: Look past the name and get to know broccoli rabe

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Vegetables, just like people, can have a hard time finding their way in life. Take broccoli rabe, for example. Saddled with various names and associated with a food loathed by a former president, it is a truly misunderstood vegetable.

With its broccoli-like florets, at first glance it might look like a slimmed-down version of a broccoli stalk.

Don’t let appearances fool you. Broccoli rabe is actually a member of the turnip family. If you’ve ever grown or purchased turnip greens, you will see the resemblance immediately.

Because it originated in both the Mediterranean region and China, everybody and his brother had a name for it: raab, rabe, rape, rapine, rappi, rappone, rapinini. Andy Boy, the largest American producer, settled on the name broccoli rabe, pronounced like the man’s name “Rob.”

Like all dark leafy greens, broccoli rabe is loaded with nutrients. It boosts your immune system, supports heart health and strengthens your bones. I hesitate to use the word superfood, but broccoli rabe is definitely a better choice than romaine lettuce.

The initial flavor of broccoli rabe is slightly bitter. A short blanch in salted water tames this bitterness. Some olive oil and lemon juice mellows out the taste, revealing its nutty and earthy tones.

Although available year-round, broccoli rabe is a winter/early spring green. When choosing a bunch, look for a vibrant dark green color with crisp leaves. The florets should be compact and green. Avoid any with small yellow flowers showing.

While fine as a side dish on its own, its aggressive flavor pairs well with pasta. A sprinkle of Parmesan or Romano cheese on the top rounds out the flavors.

Pasta With Broccoli Rabe

1 bunch broccoli rabe

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons pine nuts

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

11/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti or linguini

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Grated cheese, for topping

Bring a medium-size pot of slightly salted water to a boil. Trim 1/2 inch from the stalks of the broccoli rabe. Cut the remainder into 2-inch pieces. Add the broccoli rabe to the salted water and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Add the broccoli rabe, water, pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Add the cooked pasta to the broccoli rabe mixture, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice. If the sauce seems thin, add some pasta water. Toss well to combine, and serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.