Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

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Have you ever cooked with broccoli rabe (usually pronounced “rob”, also known as rapini)? It sort of looks like broccolini or Chinese broccoli, with longish stems, small green florets, and lots of leaves. It’s actually more related to turnips than to broccoli, and tastes a little like mustard greens, slightly bitter but more nutty.

Slightly bitter usually that is.

The first time I cooked broccoli rabe it must have been really late in the season, because those greens were so bitter none of us (hardened bitter greens eaters that we are) could take more than one bite.

Several chefs I questioned about the bitterness suggested blanching the rabe first to take the edge off the bitterness. So I’ve done that here, though if you like the bite of rabe, or you are working with tender young plants, you can skip that step.

Broccoli Rabe

I also mixed in some slightly caramelized onions, to add some sweetness to balance the bitter of the green. Hmm, all this talk of “bitter”, I’m not doing a great job selling you on rabe am I!

We love greens, and we loved this. Not only did I serve this rabe to my parents and they gobbled it right up, but I had a bunch leftover which I ate cold, for lunch, the next day. If something tastes just as good cold as it did hot, you know it’s good.

Do you have a favorite way of preparing broccoli rabe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into slivers, lengthwise (with the grain)
  • 1 large bunch of broccoli rabe (raab, rapini), rinsed and cut into 2-inch long pieces
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

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1 Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the onions, spread out in a thin layer. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened and then lightly browned. (Tip: to speed up the caramelization process you can sprinkle a pinch of sugar over the onions.) If the onions start to dry out at all, lower the heat (you can add a little water to them too.) They should brown, but not get dried out.

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2 After you start the onions, bring a large pot of water to a boil. The onions take at least 15 minute to cook, so you'll have time to get the water boiling. Salt the water (about a tablespoon of salt for 3 quarts of water). Prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl half way with ice water. Add the rabe to the boiling water. Blanch for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the boiling water and put in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Shocking the rabe with ice water will also help keep the rabe bright green colored.

Note that some people blanch their rabe, some do not. Rabe can be rather bitter, so blanching will help take the edge off of the bitterness. If your rabe isn't particularly bitter, or you like bitter greens, you can easily skip this blanching step.

Drain the ice water from the rabe. Use a clean tea towel to gently wring out the excess moisture from the rabe.

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3 Once the onions are lightly browned, remove them from the pan to a bowl. Using the same pan, add another Tbsp of olive oil and heat the pan on high heat. Add the chili flakes. Once the chili flakes start to sizzle, add the garlic. Once the garlic just starts to brown at the edges add the broccoli rabe and the onions. Toss the rabe mixture so that it gets well coated with the olive oil. Cook on high heat until most of the moisture is gone, about 5 minutes if you blanched first, a minute or too longer if you skipped the blanching.

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Links:

Broccoli Rabe with Pasta and Sun Dried Tomatoes here on Simply Recipes

Pizza with broccoli rabe and roasted onions from Deb of Smitten Kitchen

You don't have to be Italian to eat broccoli rabe - story and recipes by food blogger Susan Russo for NPR

Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

Showing 4 of 29 Comments

  • Kevin

    That’s exactly the way I make them but in the end I give them a splash of white wine and right to the plate they go! Nice job Chef Elise!

  • Jenn

    Mmmmm, I fell in love with rapini (aka broccoli rabe) while in Puglia. I like to eat it with orrechiete in a garlicky, spicy, slightly bitter chicken broth. My inspired way of preparation: Rinse 1 bunch rapini greens, trim stalk ends about a half inch, and blanch in lightly salted, rapidly boiling water for a minute, strain and let cool on cutting board. Reserve 1.5 cups green blanching water and rinse pot out. In same pot, add 1 quart chicken stock, the reserved blanching liquid, and bring to a boil, add 1 pound orrechiete and simmer in stock until al dente. Do not strain pasta! Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, over medium heat, saute about 3 anchovy filets or 1.5 teaspoons of anchovy paste in a very generous amount of olive oil until nutty in fragrance. Break up filets/stir paste into the oil with wooden spoon as it transforms from ‘fishy’ to nutty. Reduce heat to as low as you can and add some red pepper flakes and 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced into rounds, swirling mixture until garlic is mellow and oil is well flavored. Chop rapini, stems and all, into 1 inch pieces, and toss in the olive oil over heat briefly, adding a dusting of freshly ground nutmeg. Turn off heat. Add the coated greens and olive oil to the al dente pasta and broth, stir, then serve in bowls with grated parmesan cheese and crusty bread on the side. There will be more pasta than broth, so it’s not quite soup, but make sure to include as much broth as you can. If there are left overs, the pasta will absorb most of the broth, but it’s still tasty. A quality thick pasta like orrechiete (usually use Delallo brand) can withstand this and not turn to mush, though it will get past the al dente stage.

    Wow Jenn, it sounds fabulous. Thank you! ~Elise

  • Anna

    We just had dinner in a small restaurant in Windham, NY, and I ordered their special: broccoli rabe, white beans, and sweet Italian sausage. It would have been a great dish (and I think that it could have been, given what my husband ordered, and how good that was). The problem? The pieces were not cut up, it was a bit too mushy (chewy, honestly, I almost choked trying to chew and swallow) – and the combination of all ingredients were very bitter. Maybe he didn’t blanch the rabe beforehand, but it seemed like the beans added to the bitterness, and by the end, I was having trouble getting through it all. I don’t know if this is a traditional dish, or what, but I’d like to try rabe at home and not have a similar result. It, like collard greens, is a bit intimidating. Maybe you have to do as some have suggested, and follow the Chinese practice of using opposing flavors…hmmm.

    Broccoli rabe can be bitter. I’ve had batches that I’ve just had to throw out because neither I nor anyone at the table would eat it. Blanching should help. Also if you get a bitter bunch, try just taking a bit at a time, in between bites of other foods. ~Elise

  • Franko American

    Broccoli Rabe…molto bene!
    Garlic and oil saute with lots of broccoli rabe leaves. Forget about the florets. Add Italian sausage cut up in 1/2″ slices. Red flakes if your like hot taste.

    My problem is I cannnot get broccoli rabe in leaves only in Whatcom county. They love florets here???
    Help out there!

  • Carol Sahlfeld

    This recipe is wonderful. I love bitter greens, so I skipped the blanching step. I added some grape tomatoes during the last couple of minutes. Yum.

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