(Editor's Note: this article was originally published on December 21, 2008.)
With leaves that look like turnip greens, and small florets that look just like broccoli, it is no wonder this vegetable suffers from an identity crisis. The Chinese and the Italians (there is more confusion over where exactly it originated) were using this vegetable as far back as the fourteenth century. In the Puglia region of Italy, it is customary to start Christmas Eve dinner with 'Rape Nfucate' served with focaccia.
Where it was originally just used as animal fodder in the United States, it has recently gained in popularity--and justifiably so--and is now readily found on the more cosmopolitan grocery shelves; I urge you to give it a try.
Loaded with vitamins A and C, high in potassium, iron and calcium and low in calories: this should be on your favorite vegetable list. However, the pungent, pleasantly bitter taste might take a little getting used to. Blanching it prior to stir-frying (the commonest form of preparing Rapini) takes some of the bitterness away. So does adding a bit of lemon. The recipe quoted below is sure to please, and you and your guests may find yourselves looking forward to the next time you'll serve this! Fresh heads have bright green, crisp, upright stalks and leaves. Avoid Rapini that has started to wilt or turn yellow.
Brussica rapa (Ruvo group) can be easily grown in mild climates, with planting in mid fall giving a winter harvest, or in early spring for an early summer harvest; it does not do too well in hot weather. In a loamy, well drained soil bed, sow the seeds in rows, with a thin covering of fine soil. The seeds will generally germinate in a week to ten days. Thin out the small plants to leave them spaced about two feet apart. It is as always a good idea to plant successive groups spaced a few weeks apart, to give you a continuous harvest. Cut the greens just before the bud heads start to flower.
Sauteed Rapini with garlic, olive tapenade and lemon juice.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch Rapini
2 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
2 tablespoons olive tapenade or chopped black olives
Salt and pepper and red pepper flakes as desired.
Wash the Rapini well and cut the stems into small pieces, coarsely shred the leaves and flower heads.
In a large skillet, soften the garlic in the olive oil, add the Rapini stems and stir for several minutes, then add the remainder of the Rapini, cover and steam for several minutes ontil the vegetables are wilted. Add the tapenade or chopped olives, salt, pepper and some crushed red pepper if desired, and squeeze the lemon juice over the greens. Serve either as a side dish, or stir into penne or orechiette pasta for a quick meal (in which case you may want to add some freshly grated parmesan cheese).
I hope this article has served as an introduction to a new vegetable for you, or maybe renewed your acquaintance with an old favorite.
All kitchen pictures are mine; the pictures of Rapini growing (as well as growing tips) are courtesy of DG member and fellow writer Mrs_Ed for which my thanks.