How to buy and use broccoli rabe, everyone’s favorite bitter green

Make your Italian grandmother proud by learning how to cook it

Published July 17, 2021 4:45PM (EDT)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

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Broccoli rabe (pronounced "rahb") seems like it should be a type of broccoli. Its flowers look like tiny broccoli florets, and if you stripped its stalk of leaves, you might swear it's broccolini. You'd be wrong, but not so far off — broccoli rabe is a member of the brassica family, although it's more closely related to turnips than broccoli. And don't be fooled at the market: broccoli rabe masquerades under a variety of names, including broccoli raab, rapini, bitter broccoli, turnip broccoli, and broccoli di rape.

What to look for 
Choose firm, small-stemmed specimens with compact, tightly closed, dark green florets and leaves that aren't wilted, and make sure to avoid yellow leaves and flowers. As with broccoli, the florets turn yellow as it ages, so yellow flowers are a sign that your bunch of broccoli rabe is past its prime. For extra insurance, give your stems the sniff test, and pass on any with an unpleasant smell (think off-putting cabbage aroma).

How to store and prep 
Similar to most greens, broccoli rabe stores well in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer for 3 to 5 days. The stalks, leaves, and blossoms of the plant are all edible — you'll just want to trim off the base of the stem, as it can be woody. If you end up with thick-stemmed broccoli rabe despite your best efforts otherwise, simply shave or peel a bit of the stem like you would with beefy asparagus stalks.

How to use broccoli rabe
Broccoli rabe is really at its best when cooked, though nothing should stop you from tossing a few very young leaves into a salad. Its flavor is nutty, similar to mustard or turnip greens, and bitter in varying degrees — it can change depending on your taste buds, how it's prepared, and its age. Bitterness is part of broccoli rabe's charm, but if you'd like, you can cut some of it by blanching before proceeding with your recipe. Check out our spirited discussions for other suggestions on how to quell the bite, and try recipes that balance the bitterness with sweetness or acidity. And if you still find broccoli rabe too bitter, well, all the more for us.

Our favorite broccoli rabe recipes 

A Pot of Beans and Greens 

For this uber-comforting beans and broccoli rabe recipe that can be made vegan (just leave out the Parmesan rind!), start with an entire pound of dried beans, such as cannellini, pinto, or chickpeas. Cook them with a whole head of garlic, an entire lemon, and a big head of sturdy greens, such as broccoli rabe. As they simmer together, the mixture will be super creamy, a little brothy, and totally delicious.

Beef and Broccoli 

Instead of using Chinese broccoli for this stir-fry, use broccoli rabe! Sauté it with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and a spoonful of sugar to help soften the bitter flavor of cooked broccoli rabe. Serve it over rice with thin strips of marbleized steak for a takeout meal at home.

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Stuffing

Change up your usual Thanksgiving stuffing with this super-flavorful version that boasts two classic Italian ingredients — hot Italian sausage and some slightly bitter broccoli rabe. To prepare the broccoli rabe, bring salted water to a boil and blanch it for just a couple of minutes, until tender. Stop the cooking by immediately transferring it to a bowl of ice cold water, which will preserve its crisp texture and bright color.

Pot of Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Chorizo Bread Crumbs

An entire pound of spicy sausage and a large bunch of sautéed broccoli rabe is tossed with a chunky pasta noodle like rigatoni for this 30-minute weeknight dinner recipe. Cook the broccoli rabe over medium-heat with olive oil and tomato paste in a large pot; after a few minutes, the vegetable will start to wilt and turn bright green. 

By Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean Hard is the author of "Cooking with Scraps"

MORE FROM Lindsay-Jean Hard

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