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Whats in a Name? (Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Red Pepper)

Broccoli rabe, rapini,  broccoletti, broccoli raab.  Depending on where in the world you live, these nutritious leafy green bundles go by many aliases.  Call them whatever you like.   I call them delicious.

Broccoli Rabe was a staple in my family’s diet when I was growing up.  Honestly, it almost qualified as a comfort food!  We probably ate it two or three times a week in various incarnations – with slabs of  fresh mozzarella in between thick slices of rustic Italian bread; tossed with sausage, olive oil and Parmesan cheese over pasta; and simply sautéed with garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil, just like I’ve made it here.  What was the allure?  I couldn’t say.  I guess we were just a broccoli rabe kind of family.  Sometimes, you just have to take things as they are. 

Despite what the name implies, broccoli rabe is not a member of the broccoli family. In fact, it’s actually a member of the mustard family and is also related to cabbage, kale and turnips.  I know!  I didn’t know that turnips were part of the mustard family either. Go figure.

Broccoli rabe has deep green, spiky leaves that surround small clusters of broccoli-like green florets, which is, perhaps, how it got the name.   It has a strong, herby flavor that can be described as being  pungent and a little bitter.  I find that blanching it for a few minutes in boiling water helps to not only mellow it, but tenderizes the rabe as well.

The directions for making this dish are so simple that it hardly qualifies as a recipe.  While my rabe is taking a hot bath, I slice up several cloves of garlic and round up some good olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes.    I like to slice the garlic lengthwise so that it a larger surface area.   That way it is less likely to burn while cooking.  Nothing can ruin a dish faster than  bits of burnt garlic!

After that, I sauté the garlic and pepper flakes together in the oil for a minute or two and add the broccoli rabe, cooking it until it is nice and tender.  Then, I sprinkle a little sea salt on top – and it’s done.  Finito!

As you serve it, you can drizzle some more olive oil on top of each plate.  If you do, make sure you use a really nice, fruity, extra virgin oil.   Trust me, it makes a difference.

You can serve the broccoli rabe either hot or at room temperature, which makes it a great summertime dish.  It will keep well in the fridge for several days , so you can make a big batch and recycle it into other dishes, which is what my mother always did.  One of my favorite ways to use up the leftovers is on a pizza smothered in Parmesan and mozzarella cheese.  If I’m feeling really frisky, I’ll add a little crumbled bacon too.  I like to live on the wild side…