Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, broccoletti, broccolini, raab, rape, cime di rapa, hon tsai tai, and taitcat, is a vegetable commonly featured in Italian and Chinese cuisines. Although it occasionally shares a name with broccoli, it has more in common with the turnip. Its leaves resemble turnip greens, surrounding dispersed buds that resemble thin, leggy broccoli stalks.
It is believed that modern-day rapini originated as a wild herb in either China or the Mediterranean region. Today, it is extremely popular in both of those locales, and it is growing in favor in the West as well, where it is cultivated in California, Arizona, New Jersey, Mexico, and Canada.
Rapini is a cool-season crop, so the best time for home gardeners to grow it is in the fall or early spring. Plants grown in warmer weather tend to go to seed prematurely. The plants should be harvested before the florets open, with cooks cutting the stems at ground level or just above the ground. It is possible to coax multiple cuttings from the plants if they are harvested while the weather is cool enough.
This vegetable is available year-round in the produce section of the supermarket. Shoppers should look for leaves that are bright green, with no wilting or yellowing. Buds should be unopened, and stalks should be crisp and fresh-looking. Although, ideally, it should be harvested or purchased right before eating, it can be stored, unwashed, in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper draw of the refrigerator for up to five days.
One serving (1/2 of a bunch, or about 220 g) of cooked rapini has only 75 calories and contains vitamins A, C, and K; thiamin, riboflavin, folate, zinc, manganese, potassium, calcium, and iron; is low in saturated fat; and is a good source of fiber. It has a somewhat strong and bitter flavor, which makes it a good complement to both milder foods like pasta, polenta, and white beans, and strong flavors like garlic, chili, and anchovy.
Before using, cooks should rinse the florets and leaves under cold running water to remove grit. They should then trim and discard the woody base of the stems and cut the stalks, leaves, and tips into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces. Rapini can be steamed, sauteed, stir-fried, or braised. If desired, the vegetable can be blanched briefly and drained well before sautéing, to eliminate some of its bitterness.