Friday, April 30, 2010

Cleo Coyle's Mystery Vegetable

For many people, the produce section of their grocery store is a guessing game.

Well, the next time you spy this veggie among the many greens on sale, here are some clues to help you solve the mystery of what it is and how to prepare it...

Clue #1 - Although not yet very common to U.S. kitchens, this baby is very popular in Italian cuisine.

Clue #2 - This veggie belongs to a family whose seeds are used to make canola oil.

Clue #3 - In Chinese cuisine, a close cousin of this vegetable is often stir-fried with ginger and garlic or steamed and served with oyster sauce. In Italian kitchens, my recipe (below) is probably the most common way that it's prepared...

Clue #4 - Known by many names, this veggie shares one name with the famous producer of these movies...

So...what is the vegetable?

If you guessed "James Bond," you would be wrong...


If you guessed "Broccoli Rabe," you would be correct!

(BTW -- My clips of Sean Connery aren't completely gratuitous. The late Albert "Cubby" Broccoli was the producer of all the James Bond films through GoldenEye. :-)

Some say Broccoli Rabe is an acquired taste. Maybe it is...or maybe, If you've had it before and disliked it, the preparation might be to blame. Not every cook knows the tricks to getting the best flavor out of this veggie, which can be on the bitter side.

Because of its pungent edge, Broccoli Rabe is a great gastronomic complement for starchy, sweet, and cheesy main dishes like...spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, mac 'n' cheese, casseroles, and pizzas. It's also a great source of vitamins A, C, K, and potassium.

If made fresh and blanched & shocked, Broccoli Rabe displays a nutty and sweet complexity along with its (admittedly) slightly bitter and pungent edge. Basically, if you've made kale or collard greens, then we're on the same veggie page.

Pictured below is one of my favorite vegetarian lunches:
Sesame seed-crusted Italian bread with melted cheese
and a generous portion of my Broccoli Rabe.

Cleo Coyle's
Broccoli Rabe

For a printable (PDF) version of this recipe, click here.

Makes 4 servings


1 bunch Broccoli Rabe (about 1 pound)
2-1/2 quarts water
1 teaspoon sea salt
24 whole cloves of garlic, peeled (about 1 and 1/2 heads)
4 tablespoons olive oil

Optional finishers:
Lemon slices
Pecorino Romano cheese (grated)
freshly ground black pepper


Step 1 - Select your Broccoli Rabe: Broccoli Rabe has thick stalks like kale or collard greens and leafy green tops with tiny broccoli-like florets among its leaves. (My grocer sells it in 1 pound bunches.) Buy it as fresh as possible. Leaves should be bright green and not yellowing, wilted, or flowering. When you shop for it, note that this glorious green rose might be found by many other names: Broccoli Raab, Brocoletti di Rape, Rapini, Rappi, Rape, Broccoletti, or Cima di Rapa; and (for a Chinese version of it, look for...) Kai-lan, Gai Lan, Chinese broccoli, or Chinese kale.

Step 2 - Cut off ends: Like asparagus, you want to slice off the tough ends of the Broccoli Rabe stalks and toss them. To get the stems even more tender, I sometimes peel them, as well. (The stem is the most bitter part of the vegetable, and you can trim it even more to control this flavor aspect.)

Optional: Although some cooks like to roughly chop the Broccoli Rabe at this point (into 1-inch pieces), I prefer to cook and serve mine whole.

Step 3 - Blanch and shock: Yes, it sounds like a pair of James Bond villains, but in fact this is the step to remove much of the bitter bite. First bring a pot of water to the boil (at least 2-1/2 quarts), next toss in 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Now smash 4 of your whole, peeled garlic cloves and throw them into the boiling, salted water. Finally, add your Broccoli Rabe. Simmer for 5 full minutes. Using a colander, strain the Broccoli Rabe and shock it by running very cold tap water over it until the vegetable is no longer warm. Now drain all water and pat dry.

Step 4 - Heat oil and garlic: Place 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a large sauté pan and warm over medium-high heat. Add your remaining 20 cloves of whole, peeled garlic (do not slice or smash). (See optional flavor ideas below.*) Sauté the garlic for about 3 minutes or until you are able to smell the aroma of the garlic cooking and see the skin begin to appear translucent. (Note: you do not want the garlic to brown.)

*Optional flavor ideas: In Step 4, when you throw in the whole garlic, try adding red pepper flakes for a spicy note of heat. Or add a few anchovies for an umami flavor.

Step 5 - Sauté the Broccoli Rabe: Add your Broccoli Rabe to the pan. You should hear a slight sizzling (if you do not, turn up the heat a bit). Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring continually to coat the vegetable with the garlic oil. When is it done? Test by biting. The stalks should be cooked al dente (slightly crunchy as you bite down but giving easily as you bite). Continue cooking until texture is to your liking.

Step 6 - Serve: To finish, salt to taste. Or try a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of freshly grated Pecorino Romano, and a bit of ground black pepper. Now you're ready to...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of 

To get more of my recipes,
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learn about my books,
including my bestselling
Haunted Bookshop series,
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added bonus of recipes. 


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To learn more, click here.


  1. I made some broccoli rabe a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't sure how to cook it so I roasted it like I do asparagus. My family inhaled it--we all wished we had more. I'll try this recipe too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sheila - I'm so glad to hear your family enjoyed it! I often encounter people who enjoy a good "mess o' greens," but have trouble figuring out the difference between kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard--or get tired of the same old suspects in their pans. Broccoli rabe is a nice change up from asparagus, broccoli, and spinach and I hope more people give it a try :-)

    Cheers and thanks for stopping by today,
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Great post, Cleo. I had no idea how to handle Broccoli rabe and I've repeatedly passed it in the produce section (btw, when will they start regularly stocking arugula around here? I'm addicted. But I digress...) Thanks for the suggestion and the fabulous pictures! We enjoy most vegetables around here and are always looking for a new one to add to the mix.


  4. I LOVE broccoli rabe - well, bitter greens in general. I am so glad you spotlighted this. I hate to think of someone not enjoying this! It rules.

  5. Julie - LOL on the arugula! BTW - I thought of you and your daughter as I wrote up today's post. Vegetarians often give us a whole new appreciation of the amazing array of vegetables available in the world. I hope you both enjoy this one! :)


  6. Reply to...

    Tasty Trix is in the House! Thank you for dropping by, Trix! And Right back at you with your awesome Fava Bean Salad.

    To all - check out Trix's delicious recipes and the tasty finds of her world travels by clicking here and visitng her amazing blog.

    Eat with joy!
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. we just had some broccoli rabe last night! I have always loved it but it took a bit of time before i got my boyfriend to enjoy eating it as well - while it can be tempting to try and skip the blanching step it just doesn't come out as tasty!

  8. Reply to...

    Carla - thank you for dropping by! Yes, that blanching step is un-skippable in my book :-) Hey, I checked out your lovely blog and was excited to see your recipe for Seafood Scampi with Local Clams and Ramps. I don't often see ramps for sale and I enjoyed reading your experience with them.

    To all - you can check out Carla's very tasty recipes by clicking here.

    Happy eating!
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. Hey Cleo - that's one gorgeous recipe! I've never had brocolli rabe but have tasted it's lovely Asian cousin so I got a pretty good idea what's in store with this lovely veg. I do generally like bitter greens and know I will love this treat from your kitchen!

  10. I love Broccoli Rabe, I have a bunch in the fridge now, going to make tomorrow. I have made them on pizza, with potatoes ,on pasta, anyway I have had this wonderful beauties has been a have written a perfect summary that everyone should try this wonderouf wonderful veggie great post!~