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January 5, 2016 | 4 minute read

How you can cook up cancer-fighting broccoli rabe (rapini or raab)

After many years of writing about new ideas and unexpected ways to enjoy familiar foods to appear in print, I am now sharing them as a blog. If you already know my Something Different recipes, I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them in living color and with even more detail. If it these recipes are catching your eye for the first time, welcome.

As a food writer, I get invited to some intriguing events. One of my favorites last year featured not Champagne, posh chocolates, or over-the-top desserts. It starred broccoli rabe, aka rapini, raab, and cima di rape.

Broccoli rabe’s distinctive, bitter and pungent taste is not for everyone, but at this event the family that distributes most of the rabe grown commercially in the U.S. served up dishes with wide appeal. Some were authentically Italian, like arancini, fried rice and cheese balls, filled with broccoli rabe, or a colorful combo of roasted potatoes and roasted rabe drizzled with lemon. More surprising was a vivid smoothie blending broccoli rabe with apple, banana, pineapple juice and yogurt.

But best of all was pasta tossed with broccoli rabe pesto.

Broccoli Rabe Fusilli-05At home, I tweaked the irresistible pesto to suit my taste, using less oil and sharp pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese instead of Parmesan. This also made it better combined with the taste of whole-wheat pasta. Plus I topped my version with juicy cherry tomatoes rolled in a hot skillet until they sizzle and burst.

When I teach, students are as challenged by how to prep broccoli rabe as they are by its unique greens-meets-turnip taste. I recommend a three-step method.Broccoli RabeMash

  1. Grasping the entire bunch with one hand, with the other, cut off a several inches of the woody stem bottoms.
  2. By hand, go through and snap off any woody parts that remain.
  3. Finally, and optionally, pluck off and set aside the florets. I do this because they cook more quickly than the leaves and stems and turn mushy unless added later during cooking.

Italians love broccoli rabe, along with other bitter greens. The classic way they cook broccoli rabe is braised with plenty of garlic, red pepper flakes, good olive oil and broth or water, which brings out the flavor of the greens even more. To moderate the flavor, I suggest blanching the rabe in boiling water, then cooling the drained greens in ice-cold water. Then I braise the rabe or use it however a recipe requires.

Drained rabeFor the pesto used in our latest healthy recipe — Fusili with Broccoli Rabe Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes — I actually do not use the rabe at all. Instead, I toss the raw florets into a soup or add them to a green salad.

Pesto has become an entire category— think of kale, spinach, parsley, and sun-dried tomato versions. This one is unique in adding a bit of oil to the water when blanching the broccoli rabe, which makes it particularly soft and creamy. As much a lively condiment as a pasta topping, this pesto is great served with grilled fish or tofu, pan-seared chicken breast, or shrimp. I even spoon a dollop next to scrambled eggs!

Dana Jacobi takes a fresh look at deliciously healthy food. Her Something Different recipes are inspired by local produce, the seasons, and bold ethnic flavors. She is the author of fifteen cookbooks and her articles have been featured in Cooking Light, O:The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times and many other publications. A devoted teacher, her classes feature recipes along with technique, also a frequent subject in her personal blog and in her books. She lives in New York City where she shops its many Greenmarkets and loves exploring the city’s varied neighborhoods. She is also an addicted knitter.


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