Broccoli raab is a leafy green in the turnip family. It is also known as Brassica rapa, or broccoli rabe, rapini, rape, and rapa. The plant is cultivated for its tender stalks, florets, and leaves, all of which can be eaten. The bitter, intense flavor is very popular in Italy and many parts of Asia. Many produce markets stock this green, and it can also be grown at home relatively easily.
Although “broccoli” is in the name of the plant, broccoli raab is not actually a broccoli, although it is related to it, along with mustard greens. Like other plants in the Brassicaceae group, it has a strong, peppery bite, dark leafy greens, and stalks that are tender, turning woody with age. It can be cooked in any number of ways and also eaten raw, and it is typically harvested young, before it turns too bitter. The plant is also cultivated primarily for its leaves and flowers, rather than the florets, which do not grow to be very large.
Some cooks think of the plant as a wilder cousin of broccoli, and it does indeed have a rather disheveled appearance. Small, loose florets are tucked between large leaves, and taller flower stalks protrude from the plant. All of these parts are edible, and some consumers greatly enjoy the peppery flower stalks in particular. The plant is rich in calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C, making it an excellent inclusion in a balanced diet, along with other dark green leafy vegetables.
The exact origins of broccoli raab are unclear, since the plant grows wild in Italy and Asia, and it is cultivated all over the world. Italians use it in a wide range of dishes, sometimes with other bitter greens like arugula, as do many Asian nations. Outside of these regions, the vegetable is not quite as popular, since some consumers find the bitterness too overwhelming. The plant is used as animal fodder rather than human food in some areas, in fact.
The plant prefers cool to temperate weather, and will not grow well in warm climates. It also matures relatively quickly, and some gardeners may be able to get multiple crops in one year by rotating their planting. Gardeners can plant seeds or seedlings in soil enriched with compost, keeping the plants moist but not overwhelming them with water, and they should plan on harvesting the broccoli raab in three to four weeks.