Rapini! Or…better known as “broccoli rabe” in the United States, is no doubt one of my faves. Put it on a sandwich, put it in a soup, pair it with pasta, eat it on its own, whatever! And in my area, Essex County, NJ, this stuff is literally all over the place. And it’s also being prepared in many different ways for better or for worse.
I love listening to fellow Italian-Americans argue about how they prepare different dishes. We do this with winemaking, canning tomatoes, Sunday Gravy and the list goes on. The arguments are very passionate and sometimes turn into fights! Lol! Everybody has that certain nuance about how they prepare their dishes and that’s what’s so great about cooking with passion. I feel Rapini is just one of those dishes that just has to be done a certain way, and so does everybody else, and it’s their way…lol!
Quick story . . . I was in the Netcong Shoprite one day when I used to live up that way. There are a lot of Italians in Netcong by the way. Did not know that. Well anyway, there were three elderly Italians huddled around a pile of broccoli rabe. Two women and a man. They were touching it, feeling it, smelling it, and speaking like they were arguing with each other. Well, I am not fluent in Italian (learning, however). But, I did not need to know the language to know they were arguing about the way it is supposed to be prepared. A woman actually went up to them and asked them how it should be done. I guess she figured what the heck, they’re Italian, they must know, haha! At this point, being the social butterfly that I am, I walked over and started to explain how I prepared mine. All three of them looked at me like “Who the hell are you? We know how to do it.” You gotta love old-school Italians!
So here’s how I do mine. . .
When you are selecting rapini it should be a beautiful medium to dark green color. It should feel very firm from the stems all the way up to the florets. It should also stink! You should be getting a nice bitter smell from it that kinda hits you in the back of the throat. If it is soft, pale, and yellowing don’t even bother. Make something else.
So what you want to do is put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Squeeze the juice of two lemons into the water as well. The lemons will provide some citric acid that will help maintain the beautiful green color of the rapini.
While you are waiting for the water to boil, in a small frying pan, add olive oil, salt, pepper, and the smashed garlic cloves. Do all of this while the oil is cold. Then put the flame on medium to low. We are going to heat up the smashed cloves to a soft gooey consistency with a little bit of browning but not much. When it comes to sauteing garlic, I like starting with cold oil. You avoid burning it this way. You can control what you want to do with it from start to finish as opposed to dropping garlic into the hot oil. Once the garlic is cooked through and slightly browned, shut off the flame and let cool off to the side.
Chop your broccoli rabe. All I do is cut in an inch or two off the bottom of the stem, depending on how long the stems are. I like leaving a good amount of the stem. The stem is very edible and tastes good. And that’s it. I don’t like to chop it any further unless I’m making a broccoli rabe flatbread or pizza.
Once your water starts to boil, lower it to a gentle boil. Just above a simmer. Drop-in your rapini. In moments, about a minute or so, its green hue will get brighter and even more beautiful. Once this happens just keep it in there for another minute or so. After about 3 minutes, pull out the vegetable with a pair of long tongs. Let all the excess water drip off and put it directly onto your serving platter. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Drizzle just a splash of red wine vinegar over the top. Just a splash! Pour the olive oil with the cooked garlic cloves over the top as well. Gently toss with the tongs and serve. That’s it.
I know what you are thinking. I never actually sauteed the broccoli rabe in a pan with the garlic and oil. Some prepare it this way right from the start with no blanching. It’s not for me.
The reason why I blanch it this way is for perfect doneness and extracting some of the bitterness. I like the bitterness of broccoli rabe but I think it tastes better when mellowed out a bit. After blanching, you can gently sautee it in the garlic and oil but I rather not. It’s just going to cook again and become discolored.
So with this method, you are going to get nice, bright green, mellowed out, al dente, “fresh tasting,” broccoli rabe. While still hot, on goes the seasoning, oil, and garlic. It’s a beautiful thing.
I hope you enjoyed this post and thank you for visiting.
3 heads of rapini
6 smashed garlic cloves
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
Splash of red wine vinegar