May 192011

Cime di rapa (“turnip tops”), broccoli di rapa, broccoletti di rapa, and colloquially, rape or rapini are the Italian terms for what the Americans call “broccoli raab.”  The vegetable was virtually unknown when I was growing up in the States. Today, the pleasingly bitter greens the southern Italians love have become mainstream but they are rarely cooked correctly. Whether prepared in restaurants or carry-out shops, I find they are often too bitter–the result of not  par-boiling first, or undercooking.  This is not a vegetable to cook al dente!

photo: C. Hirsheimer & M. Hamilton

This is the Italian way to prepare rapini:

Using a sharp paring knife, peel the tough skins from the tough lower stalks  (most of the bottom portion of the stalk) and cut them cross-wise into 3-inch lengths. Cut the tops into similar-sized pieces and proceed with the recipe. To take the edge off the bitterness, soak in cold water for up to an hour or so before cooking. Keep in mind that cooking time varies from 2-6 minutes total, depending on the age of the greens and the toughness of the stems.

Just the other day, the excellent cooking website, Leite’s Culinaria, featured my favorite recipe for rapini, given to me by my friend, Viola Buitoni, a direct descendant of the Buitoni family, producers of pasta and chocolate since the early 19th century. This homey dish (published in my book, Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul) is typical of the simple yet intensely flavored food of Italy. In case you missed it, here is the LINK.

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  7 Responses to “On Broccoli Rapini: When Bitter is Sweet”

  1. One of my favorite vegetables on the planet! (And rarely worth ordering in restaurants where it is usually terribly bitter and unskinned….)

  2. As I was familiarizing myself with the content of your blog, I read this notes on Broccoli di Rape, ( you are the first writer to get it right!) however the par-boiling is a roman way, because they eat the stems as well, they therefore par-boil them! In Campania we do not eat the stem, we actually wash the broccoli in cold water, remove the leaves and flowers, very carefully from the stem and saute` the Broccoli di rape with Olive oil, Garlic and peperoncino. The cooking process is to Heat the ingredients in Olive oil, when hot, add the broccoli, still drizzling with cold water, directly into the skillet. Cover the skillet and cook till the broccoli are done. Not al dente. The bitterness is what makes this vegetable so distinguished. The first Broccoli di rape, the Young ones, are called Friarielli.
    PS I have never seen Potatoes cooked together with Broccoli di Rape, it is a first for me! It is one way to reduce the bitterness?
    Tony May

    • Since my conversation with Tony about this post continued by email, I want to pass on few other things he has to say about broccoli rapini. The young rapini Tony (who is originally from Campania) is talking about are called friarielli and they are the first young greens that appear on the plant. Unfortunately, we never see friarielli in the U.S. and they are difficult to grow–I’ve tried.

      Tony’s method for cooking works for young greens. He says that the cold water in contact with the hot oil sort of freezes the bitterness and the crunchiness of the vegetable, although they should not be cooked al dente–they should be tender.

      By the way,Tony has owned numerous legendary Italian restaurants in NYC, including, presently, SD26 with his daughter, Marissa May, on Madison Square Park.

      • My family background is Roman and we do find broccoletti di rape quite easily in Australia and we prepare it the way Tony mentioned, by removing the leaves and florets from the tough stem. We definitely don’t parboil them, we sauté them directly in oil, garlic and chilli until they have completely softened.

      • Apologies for the tardy reply. I do appreciate your comment. There are various ways of cooking them. They are more pungent when not parboiled. They are fabulous both ways. I imagine that they can be grown easily in Australia’s climate? Warmest, Julia

  3. Glad to be one of many visitors on this amazing site : D.

  4. Julia,
    I was so pleased to get your mail with a link to your blog. As far as my experience with all things broccoli rapini , I love it bitter and hot like Tony May. Also, I like to put black olives in it to add to the bite. My brother ‘the chef,’ of course likes to par boil it as you suggest. My wife likes it that way too. So as my close friend Frankie P always says….” Teach Hizzone”

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