Surprisingly, broccoli rabe is not actually broccoli, nor is it related to broccoli. Â This leafy vegetable, also known as “rapini,” is classified in the same subspecies as the turnip. Â Rapini stalks have large leaves that surround clusters of green buds that look like small heads of broccoli — hence the name. Â Prior to this dish, we had never cooked or eaten broccoli rabe and weren’t quite sure we would like it. Â But we knew rapini is common in Italy (where everything is better) and is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Â Since we’re always looking for healthy — but still delicious — vegetarian meals, we decided to give this pasta and broccoli rabe dish a try. Â We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the nutty, slightly bitter flavor of the rapini combined with the garlic & olive oil pasta. Â We also liked how quick and easy this meal is to make, with just a few ingredients: Â broccoli rabe, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, orecchiette pasta and Parmesan cheese. Â As we often do with first-time cooking attempts, we consulted the folks at Cook’s Illustrated (specifically, their book Italian Classics) for a no-fail recipe.
Prepare the broccoli rabe by cutting off the thick bottom ends of the stalks (about 2 inches worth) and discard, then cut the remaining portions of stalk, leaves and florets into bite-sized pieces. Â Rinse the rapini well and run it through a salad spinner.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the broccoli rabe and cook until the rabe is slightly tender — about 2-3 minutes.
Use tongs to remove the rapini from the hot water into a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Â After a minute or so, drain the rabe and set it aside.
Bring the water used to blanch the rapini back to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
While the pasta cooks, heat about 1/3 of a cup of olive oil, along with 4 cloves of garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the garlic becomes golden brown — about 2-3 minutes. Â Then add about 1/2 a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Â The original recipe calls for mincing the garlic, but
we Dan went off-recipe and cooked ours whole but slightly crushed. Â I didn’t prefer the big pieces of garlic and would have liked it to be a little more evenly distributed in the finished dish. Â Next time we’ll probably do it my way compromise and slice the garlic into thin pieces.
Add the broccoli rabe to the skillet and cook until it is heated through — about 3-4 minutes.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it and reserve about a cup of the pasta water.
Add the broccoli rabe “sauce” to the drained pasta and stir everything together. Â Slowly add the reserved pasta water as needed if the pasta seems too dry. Â Serve in a low bowl garnished with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese. Â Not long after we made this meal, we saw a chef on the Today Show make a similar version, using anchovies instead of garlic in the olive oil and garnishing with bread crumbs, which would also be delicious. Â If you’ve never tried broccoli rabe, we recommend either of these recipes as a good introduction to this super healthy vegetable.