It’s a little sad out in my garden. The tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and beans have spent their last energy. We’ve cleaned up the leaves and started prepping the yard for winter. As much as I mourn the loss of these fresh vegetables, fall brings later harvests of squash and the dark, green, leafy branches of rapini. Rapini thrive in colder weather, popping up in very late fall or early spring. These greens are, of course, good for you and have an interesting bitter flavour that is favoured in Italy. But don’t be afraid of the bitterness – it can be mellowed with a little blanching. Even my English/German brother-in-law has come to appreciate the flavour, when at least mixed into dishes.
Rapini are also known as rapi or broccoli di rapa in Italy, but if you are watching food shows on TV, you’ll hear them being called broccoli rabe, which may just be bad pronunciation of the actual name. The buds, which look a little like broccoli (though they’re not related), leaves and stems are all edible and feature often in Southern Italian cooking.
Served too crunchy and raw and you might find the bitterness overwhelming. Overcook them and they are mushy and stringy. But get this simple side dish recipe of sautéed rapini with garlic down pat and you can repurpose it for a variety of dishes. Chopped up smaller and fried up with potatoes, or tossed in to pasta or served over polenta, rapini are used in multiple ways.
Sautéed Rapini with Garlic
1 bunch rapini
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
pinch of dried hot pepper flakes, if desired
salt to taste
Select a bunch of rapini that are a dark, vibrant green throughout. Remove any yellowing or browning leaves and the bottoms of the stems that may be dried out and tough, cutting off about an 1/2 to 1 inch.
For thicker stems, you can cut the rapini in half or cut a small slit in the bottom of the stem to allow it to cook as quickly as the rest of the rapini. You may also choose to cut the branches into 3 to 4 inch lengths, depending on how you like to eat your greens.
Wash the rapini well under cold water, removing any dirt or grit. If you want to remove some of the bitterness of the rapini, you can blanch them before sautéing. To blanch, set a large pot of water on to boil. Place the rapini in the boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes then remove to a colander and cool by running them under cold water or place them into ice water. When the rapini are cool, drain and squeeze out any remaining water with your hand before sautéing.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium. When heated, cook the garlic slices and hot pepper flakes (if desired) for 1 minute in the oil before adding in the rapini. Do not let the garlic brown. For a lighter garlic flavour, remove the garlic slices after they have cooked and infused into the oil. Toss the rapini in the oil, then cover with a lid for 4-5 minutes. When the lid comes off, you’ll find your rapini have begun to wilt, they will steam a bit as they release their own water. If you’ve blanched the rapini, you won’t need to cover the frying pan.
Sprinkle the rapini with salt to your taste and cook for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. The rapini should be fully wilted and just cooked through. They will still be a gorgeous green – overcooked they look dull and a bit more brown. Remove and serve hot as a side dish or over polenta.