How to Cook Broccoli Rabe

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 15. Apr. 2021

Everything you need to know to cook buttery-soft, not-bitter broccoli rabe every time, from preparation and buying tips to step-by-step recipes.

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Broccoli rabe, also referred to as rapini, might not be as well-known as its popular cousins broccoli and broccolini, however this delicious and nutrient-packed vegetable shouldn’t be overlooked. Brimming with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, folate and vitamin C, this close relative of the turnip has a naturally bitter taste, which makes it slightly more difficult to cook than broccoli or other side vegetables. However with the right cooking technique that pungent bitterness is all but obliterated, leaving in its wake a nutty, earthy flavor, hearty and versatile texture and beautiful green hue that wakes up just about any main entree.

The key to cooking good broccoli rabe is to cook it just long enough and with the right accompaniments, which will neutralize much of the vegetable’s unpleasant bitterness while leaving in-tact its bright freshness and comforting bite.

Buying Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe season hits around mid-spring. When shopping for the vegetable, you’ll want to look out for a stem that is firm and light green, with dark green florets that are tightly-closed. If any part of the broccoli rabe is yellow, it’s already started its wilting process and shouldn’t be purchased. Give your broccoli rabe a sniff before purchasing as well-- it should smell fresh, with no unpleasant odor. Broccoli rabe that has gone bad will have a strong smell of cabbage.

Preparing Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe's dense texture and hearty harvest means it needs a good wash and trim before cooking.

How to Clean Broccoli Rabe

Like any leafy green, sand and dirt can often get stuck within the leaves and florets of broccoli rabe, and remain hidden unless you give it a proper wash.

Start by filling a large bowl with cold water. Submerge the broccoli rabe in the bowl and swish them around a few times. Next, sift through the leaves and florets by hand, helping to dislodge any remaining dirt or grit. Take them out of the bowl and pat dry.

How to Trim Broccoli Rabe

When cooking broccoli rabe you’ll be using both the leaves and the stems, however both will come with tough parts that you’ll want to dispense of before cooking.

To start, take a paring knife and cut off the hard, tough end of the stalk. to prune both of their woody, dense parts before cooking. Using a paring knife, cut off the very bottom of the stem, which will feel hardened and woody, about ¼”.

Next, feel the large leaves attached to the bottom of the stalk. These can either be hard and tough or perfectly tender, depending on the season and freshness of the vegetable. If they’re hard, cut them off the stem. Look around for any other particularly rough or discolored parts with a brown or yellow hue. These segments have begun to go bad and could harbor bacteria, so make sure to cut them off as well.

You can either stop here, preparing and serving your broccoli rabe whole, or you can cut it up further to create smaller bites. The decision is entirely up to you. If you want to cut up your broccoli rabe, simply cut off the florets at the base and chop the leaves into 1-2” long pieces.

How to Make Broccoli Rabe Taste Less Bitter

The secret to neutralizing broccoli rabe’s infamous bitter texture is as simple as it is integral: give it a good blanch first. No matter how you plan to cook it, blanching your broccoli rabe first will eliminate much of its bitterness and soften its tough leaves and florets, giving the tough vegetable a delicious, slightly buttery texture it just can’t attain without it. Drizzling some olive oil on the broccoli rabe right after blanching will also help greatly with texture and flavor, infusing it with much-needed fat at exactly the time it is most prone to sucking it up. Even if you are going to use olive oil in subsequent preparation, try not to skip this step. Your broccoli rabe won’t turn out too oily, but will have a more scrumptious flavor and consistency.

How to Blanch Broccoli Rabe

Bring a large pot of water to a hard boil. As it boils, prepare an ice bath, adding water and ice to a large bowl, and setting to the side.

Season the water generously with salt (add more than you think you should-- this part is key to bringing out the vegetable’s flavor) and place your broccoli rabe in the pot, turning heat down to medium-high.

Boil for 1-2 minutes, depending on quantity. 

Using a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli rabe and submerge it in the bowl with ice water. Leave in ice water for 30 seconds to a minute.

Remove the broccoli rabe from the ice bath and place it in a new bowl or plate. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure to coat each leaf and floret.

How to Saute Broccoli Rabe

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Hazelnuts

Sauteeing is probably the most popular way to cook broccoli rabe. The oil and soft heat helps to lull the vegetables toughness into submission, yielding a buttery-soft texture and mild yet fresh flavor that pairs well with just about anything. Garlic is integral when sauteing broccoli rabe, adding aromatics and a savoriness that brings out the broccoli rabe’s flavor without overpowering it.

Blanch your broccoli rabe.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan or skillet over medium heat. Flick a drop of water into the pan to gauge when it’s ready-- if the olive oil sizzles, you’re ready for the next step.

Add 2 cloves of garlic per 1 bunch of broccoli rabe to the olive oil. You can dice or slice the garlic if you prefer, or can just keep it whole. If you like red pepper flakes, throw a pinch in at this point as well. Cook until the garlic is golden brown and aromatic, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add the broccoli rabe to the pan, and season with about a teaspoon of sea or kosher salt.

Saute for approximately 3-5 minutes, using tongs or a spoon to move the broccoli rabe around the pan so it cooks evenly. Remove from the pan and serve as-is, or with a squeeze of lemon or parmesan cheese.

How to Steam Broccoli Rabe

Poussin with Potatoes, Shallots and Steamed Broccoli Rabe

Steaming broccoli rabe is super quick and easy, and will save you a few calories along the way compared to sauteed broccoli rabe. As with sauteing, the secret to cooking a delicious steamed broccoli rabe is getting the timing just right and not skimping on the salt. A healthy drizzle of olive oil doesn’t hurt either.

Heat water in a steaming pot until you see steam start to rise.

Place your broccoli rabe in the basket and steam for 5-7 minutes, or until both leaves and stalks are tender.

Season with a liberal amount of salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil before serving.

If you haven’t cooked broccoli rabe, it’s high time you try. Not only is it delicious, beautiful and healthy, but broccoli rabe is incredibly easy to make. A couple minutes of blanching and then a few more in the saute pan or steamer and you have yourself a beautiful vegetable bursting with flavor that goes well with just about any entree. Its hearty texture and flavor pairs particularly well with red meats, such as lamb or steak. Or toss it with some brown rice and tofu for a delicious, uniquely textured vegan feast. Even more so than broccoli or broccolini, when it comes to broccoli rabe, the possibilities are truly endless.

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