If you think “broccoli rabe” is a fancy term for a broccoli stem, that’s understandable, but incorrect. Instead, broccoli rabe is its own vegetable, and it’s likely you’ve heard it under a different name—rapini.
The Food Lover’s Companion identifies broccoli rabe as “a vegetable related to both the cabbage and turnip family” with “6- to 9-inch stalks and scattered clusters of broccolilike buds. It’s also called American gai lan, brocoletti di rape, Italian broccoli, rabe, rape, and rapini.”
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As part of the Brassicaceae family, broccoli rabe is related to other cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli, and turnips. However, broccoli is a member of brassica rapa, the same subspecies as turnips, meaning it’s more closely related to turnips. Regular broccoli, however, is a member of the oleracea species. It’s not that broccoli rabe isn’t related to broccoli—rather, the genetic link between broccoli and turnips is a little closer, like siblings versus cousins. Broccoli is more closely related to broccolini, which is a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli (gai lan), both of which are members of the oleracea species.
The leaves, stems, and buds are all edible, just like with broccoli and broccolini. Unlike its cruciferous cousins, however, broccoli rabe is pungent and slightly bitter, which makes sense considering it’s closely related to turnips, bok choy, and Napa cabbage. That bitter taste doesn’t make broccoli rabe as popular as broccoli in the US, and The Food Lover’s Companion notes it’s more often used as animal fodder. However, it’s popular elsewhere, especially Italy, and can be served raw, such as in a salad, or cooked in a variety of ways.
Broccoli rabe benefits:
As a cruciferous vegetable, broccoli rabe is loaded with nutrients. It’s especially high in iron, potassium, calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. It’s also high in fiber and folate, which is especially useful for anyone who’s pregnant. Broccoli rabe has also been known to promote heart health and bone strength, prevent cancer, and control the release of glucose and insulin in your body.
Broccoli rabe recipes: