Greens with an attitude
Broccoli rabe flavors a lean pasta dish
My Italian father-in-law grew artichokes, peas, and broccoli to sell. But my mother-in-law grew broccoli rabe for their table, where I learned to love it.
The broccolis are related, but broccoli rabe (also called rapini) has more punch ― a bitter bite typical of members of the chicory and mustard families. It’s also a skinnier, leafier, leggier broccoli with tiny green flower buds at the stalk tips. And it’s surprisingly available but easily overlooked ― or confused with Chinese broccoli (gai laan), which is distinguished by small clusters of white flowers and rangier stalks.
Once, while I was visiting the Apulia region of Italy, broccoli rabe and ear-shaped orechiette pasta began almost every lunch and dinner for days. The greens were stir-fried in a little olive oil, seasoned with a few hot chili flakes, then mixed with the boiled pasta. Plain? Yes. But so satisfying, I actually made myself a batch as soon as I got home.