A few days ago I was in the produce department of the store I call The Frou-Frou Market when I noticed a leafy vegetable that reminded me a little of Chinese flowering cabbage. I leaned in closer to read its label, and then recoiled with a shudder and walked away.
You see, the last time I tried broccoli rabe, sometime during the Clinton administration, I found it so bitter that I never wanted to try it again. I was still shuddering at my vague memory of “Bitter Rob” when my gaze fell on several other vegetables that I used to hate: turnip and mustard greens, which I once thought of as bitter, and beets, which tasted like dirt until I started roasting them myself.
The Health-Food Angel on my shoulder whispered that maybe I should give broccoli rabe another chance, so I grabbed one of the green bundles and sped toward the cash register before the Junk Food Devil on my other shoulder could steer me toward the bulk bins of jelly beans.
Broccoli rabe or raab, also known as rapini, looks like a cross between broccoli and young mustard greens, but it’s actually no relation to broccoli at all and closer to turnips than to mustard greens. Sometimes it’s confused with broccolini, which is a new, less-leafy hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli and no relation to broccoli rabe.
The problem with broccoli rabe is that it’s bitter if you cook it briefly like broccoli, which can be a shock when you then expect it to taste like broccoli. I suspect that’s what happened the first time I tried it, but this time around I did my homework and read up on it before I cooked it. I discovered that it’s much less bitter if you boil it briefly before going on to saute it or add it to a recipe.
So I tried pre-boiling it, and just to be sure it was actually edible, I tasted it straight out of the boiling pot: no bitterness. I could have eaten it plain, but then I wouldn’t have had a recipe to show you or bragging rights that within a month, I’ve added two new vegetables to this blog’s archives. Now, if only I could get myself to re-try the dreaded rutabaga!
A couple of days ago I asked my Facebook followers if they liked broccoli rabe, and I got a lot of enthusiastic yeses as well as some suggestions of how to prepare it. Many of these ideas include oil, so they’re not fat-free, but I think you should be able to leave it out or cut it down to a few drops:
- I like it braised in veggie stock, then sauteed with garlic and onions. –Zoe
- Parboil it for @5-10 min first, then saute in olive oil with garlic & red pepper. The boiling takes away some of the bitterness and then it is delish!! –Dawn
- I love it, heat oil in a pan, add chili flakes and garlic, then toss in cooked orzo and steamed broccoli rabe. Delicious. –Peggy
- love it boiled with olive oil and lemon –Demme
- Blanche then Sauté in olive oil and garlic. Serve with noodles and Cajun tempeh. –Kerry
- NOT very low fat, but it’s awesome blanched then sauteed in a little shallot, garlic and virgin coconut oil. –Shelley
- blanch for 30 secs, the put in a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with hot peppers and grated garlic. Mix into whole wheat pasta. –Rosie
- I often steam it, alone or with other veggies. I also use it in a thick soup, cooking it for the last 15 minutes or so. –Hedy
- I blanch then saute in olive oil with TONS of garlic and crushed pepper. We even love the leftovers cold on sandwiches. –Leslie
- dunk in boiling water to wilt (takes the bitterness out, which steaming does not) and then toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and freshly minced garlic. –Rachel
- I have added a little bit of this in raw with a blended salad/soup before and it was very good – added a nice spiciness to it. –Laura
- I like the Veganomicon way with pasta and extra balsamic and red pepper flakes! Although any way will do! –Erika
This recipe is sort of a hybrid of a casserole and a frittata, and because of the boiling of the broccoli rabe and the pre-baking of the potatoes, it’s more complicated than most of my recipes. Feel free to substitute steamed broccoli or kale instead of broccoli rabe or use fresh spinach and avoid the pre-cooking process completely. But your Health-Food Angel insists you at least give broccoli rabe a try. And skip the jelly beans.
Potato and Broccoli Rabe Casserole
- 1 pound small red potatoes , quartered
- salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste
- 1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper
- 1 pound broccoli rabe
- 12 oz lite firm or extra-firm silken tofu , drained (1 package Mori-Nu, 349 g)
- 1/4 cup plain soy milk (60 ml)
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 heaping tablespoon potato starch or cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon raw cashews or 2 tsp. cashew butter (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- 1 teaspoon basil
Preheat oven to 400F. Oil a 2-quart casserole dish. Cut the potatoes into quarters (1/2-inch cubes if they’re large). Place them on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring once, until they are slightly tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and transfer to the casserole dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the roasted red pepper.
While the potatoes are baking, prepare the broccoli rabe. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and have ready a large bowl of water and ice. Cut off and discard the broccoli rabe’s thick stems. Chop the leaves and smaller stems into 2-inch pieces. Add about a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and add the broccoli rabe. Return to a boil and cook until the rabe is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and plunge into the prepared ice water. Keep it in the ice water until the potatoes are in the casserole dish. Then, drain the water and dry the greens as best you can (spinning them in a salad spinner helps). Put them on top of the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
Place tofu and remaining ingredients in a blender, and puree until very smooth. Pour over the broccoli rabe. Use a spoon to gently open holes through the greens so that the tofu mixture penetrates it. Smooth the top so that tofu layer is even and covers all the rabe.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until liquid has thickened. (Shallow baking dishes will take less time than deep ones.) Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.