Broccoli rabe shares part of its name with broccoli, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Not only do the vegetables look different and have different methods of preparation, broccoli rabe is part of the turnip family and not a "cruciferous" vegetable like broccoli and cauliflower.
Although ubiquitous in the United States, broccoli originated in Italy. Its claim to fame as a healthful food is validated by its vitamins A, B-complex, C and K content. Whether lightly steamed to roasted, it packs a healthy punch and a deep grassy flavor. Its rough top takes in flavors of whatever it is cooked in, and the more fibrous stem can be trimmed short. Broccoli is excellent for sopping up sauces and liquids such as melted butter and stocks. It can also be enjoyed raw and regularly appears on the crudite menu.
Broccoli -- a cruciferous vegetable like cabbage and Brussels sprouts -- can cause digestive consequence such as gas, flatulence and bloating.
Fresh broccoli should not be overly tough, or taste woody. The older broccoli gets, the more it loses the flavor and texture that makes it delicious. To help preserve broccoli, keep it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator: Broccoli stored at room temperature will lose its crunch. Despite any careful attention regarding storage, however, some people will inherently dislike the flavor of broccoli. A variation of the "TAS2R38" gene could render this nutritional powerhouse bitter, no matter how it is prepared.
Overcooking broccoli to a mushy consistency is a sure bet on losing valuable vitamins and nutritional value, not to mention flavor, texture and the beauty of a perfectly cooked broccoli spear.
Almost a misnomer, broccoli rabe -- also known as rapini -- looks nothing like the treelike structures of broccoli. It's a leafy green, sharing only the dark verdant coloring that cooked broccoli also sports. The flavor of broccoli rabe is somewhat of an acquired taste: it's bitter and bright, and needs to be cooked before it's edible.
Also hailing from Italy, broccoli rabe is cooked much like mustard greens, turnip greens or Swiss chard. It's an excellent side dish when sauteed with bacon and garlic, or added to white bean and miso soups for a deep, earthy flavor that balances the soy taste of miso. Blanched and served with toasted pine nuts, figs and ricotta produces a warm salad that utilizes broccoli rabe's tart taste. If you have access to a pressure cooker, you can diminish the long cooking time it takes -- around 30 minutes -- to around 5 minutes. Pressure cooking can help tame the strong, slightly bitter flavor broccoli rabe inherently possesses.
It's rather rare to find broccoli rabe in U.S. supermarkets; the best bet is to search local farmer's markets during its season of cold winter months. When selecting broccoli rabe, look for leaves that are intact and crisp. Wash before cooking, and -- like greens or asparagus -- remove any of the overly fibrous stems.