Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

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. 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

  • 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.

Links:

Sautéed broccoli rabe with sun-dried tomatoes from Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen
Pizza with broccoli rabe and roasted onions from Deb of Smitten Kitchen
Meatball soup with broccoli rabe from Alanna of Kitchen Parade
Roasted spaghetti squash with broccoli rabe from Dani Spies
Chorizo, chickpeas, and broccoli rabe from Revel and Feast
You don't have to be Italian to eat broccoli rabe - story and recipes by food blogger Susan Russo for NPR

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30 Comments

  1. Rossella

    Ha! These are “BROCCOLETTI”, called so in Rome where we prepare them with Italian sausage: terribly easy to prepare, this is a budget dish where the drippings from the sausage should give taste to the veggies with no addition of more grease.
    Broccoletti (Cime di Rapa for the rest of Italy) are so tasty you can just boil them to tenderize them and then put them in a hot skillet with sizzling olive oil (you can brown a couple of garlic cloves in the oil first).
    These re-fried broccoletti make a terrific sandwich with ciabatta + a thick slice of pecorino romano :)

  2. Koek!

    I am a greens whore, but have never seen these. they look like a cross between spinach and broccoli… Making me hungry! I like to prepare most greens very simply (and similarly), with garlic and olive oil, and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
    Robyn

  3. honeybee

    I love broccoli rabe! Unfortunately, it’s only available seasonally here in Europe, so I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d like.

    My favorite ways of cooking it are:

    1. Sauteed, then mixed with orrichetti pasta, sundried tomatoes and black olives with a good lashing of extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese and a few red pepper flakes

    2. Sauteed plain in some garlic infused olive oil.

    Love the idea of combining it with sundried tomatoes, pasta, and olives. Thanks! ~Elise

  4. Joanne

    Ever since I can remember my favorite dish that my mom cooked was ziti with crumbled Italian sausage and broccoli rabe sauteed in an olive oil sauce. Amazing.

    That’s usually how I prepare it but I like the sound of it with caramelized onions! And yes, it’s bitter. But in a GOOD way.

    Rabe would be great with Italian sausage, yum. ~Elise

  5. Debbie

    We love Broccoli rabe and eat it like this without the onions or added to sauteed Italian sausage then simmered together until sausage is cooked and broccoli is tender but not mushy. We also eat it mixed with spaghetti using some of the pasta water to blend it together.

  6. Becky

    I never knew what this was until I just saw it here. We visit the China Pearl in Boston’s Chinatown every year for the New Year, and this is a dish at the buffet station during Dim Sum. It’s delicious, and I’m so glad I know what it is now! We have two asian markets here in town, I will have to stop in to get some. Thanks Elise!

    Hi Becky, I think what you are getting at the Dim Sum place is Chinese broccoli, which is a slightly different (but still very good) vegetable from rabe. ~Elise

  7. Fran

    I made broccoli rabe once, about 2.5 years ago — by mistake. I was housebound and ordered groceries that week. I thought I was ordering broccollini and got the greens instead. My initial reaction was that it smelled and kind of looked like tobacco and after the cooking process I felt the same. It tasted like a heap of tobacco as well.

    Your words and photos may have convinced me to give it another try.

  8. Paul

    Broccoli rabe is wonderful. We eat it cooked with just garlic and oil. Also good mixed with sausage and then made into a risotto or stuffed into egg roll wrappers. There is also a weight watchers recipe with chicken, broccoli rabe and polenta which is also very good!

  9. Janet

    If you’re from Philly you’ve probably eaten broccoli rabe on a Tony Luke’s Italian roast pork sandwich. Roast pork, provolone and broccoli rabe. So, so good. For Mother’s Day, my son’s fiance made me Cavatelli with Broccoli Rabe which was delish (and even better the next day). I always say I’m not much for greens but maybe I am. My husband loves any and all so I may have to try this.

    A roast pork, provolone, rabe sandwich? Wow. That’s a combo I never would have thought of but sounds great! ~Elise

  10. Kalynskitchen

    When I first heard about broccoli rabe, it took me literally weeks to get a grocery store in SLC to order it for me, and when I finally got to try it, I loved it! Fast forward a few years and now it’s more widely available here. I have a favorite vendor at the farmer’s market who always sells it every year; can’t wait to get some again.

  11. Jim

    You said you had it cold the next day. It’s great that way but even better instead of lettuce in a sandwich.

  12. jcl

    It’s delicious! However, it is acutally pronounced RA-pay. The /b/ makes a /p/ sound!

    You’ll find that people pronounce it differently in different parts of the country. Another pronunciation is “RAH-bee”. Though from what I’ve been able to determine through online research and talking to chefs, the most common pronunciation is “rob”. ~Elise

  13. Nick (Macheesmo)

    It’s my absolutely favorite thing when a dish is as good cold as it was warm.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of rabe these days in the markets and stores. It’s making a comeback!

  14. Terry Oliver

    My first time eating this was when a friend made it for me using pretty much the same recipe. The only difference was, he sliced up sweet Italian sausage and sauteed it with the onions. YUM!

  15. Ophelia

    I’m not a big broccoli fan, but I love broccoli rabe! I typically blanch it quickly, then saute it with sliced garlic and red pepper flakes. It’s good as a side, or with some sausage and orecchiette as a main dish.

  16. baquist

    I grew up eating lots of it, and unless you do it right, you can dislike it for life. In fact, we did call it ‘tobacco’ as kids! The best Broccoli Rabe is when the greens are young and tender, even before the florets have set, if you can get it. It is superb in stir fries and delicious just the way both Elise and Kalyn have described it. Do give it a chance! Very high in Vitamin A. I’m actually planning to plant some this fall.

  17. Tempy

    My family is not very fond of bitter veggies, and will seldom try anything that looks like cooked spinach . .! But I have gotten them to try Collard Greens . . can you fix the rabe in a similar fashion as the greens?

    You mean with bacon? I think that would work. Or pancetta or prosciutto. ~Elise

  18. Liane

    This is my standard recipe for all types of vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, beet greens, etc. Tasty! Unfortunately my friend’s foodie brother made broccoli rabe for us and even with his expert preparation, it wasn’t something I enjoyed. But the garlic/olive oil/pepper flakes combo is great on many things!

  19. Marie

    Love Broccoli Rabe, cook it frequently, lightly sauteed in olive oil with fresh chopped garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of chicken broth because I love the juice. I’ve tried it with various pasta recipes but really prefer the simple saute. I don’t dumb it down by blanching or boiling it first. I love the bitterness. My next favorite is mustard greens and almost any green I pickup at the asian market. A lot of times I don’t even know what kind of green it is but take it home for a quick saute and haven’t found anything I didn’t like yet.

  20. Dara

    Good tip about blanching the broccoli rabe first and sweetening the dish with caramelized onions. Even with all the “bitter” talk, you sold me on this dish.

  21. Esther

    Growing up in a Chinese household, we used to eat this all the time! Mom sauteed it with garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Pretty basic, but yum. I think blanching it first helped to take the bitter flavor away.

    We like to have it with Sausage and red pepper flakes in my house!

  22. jen

    My take is that bitter veggies need an acid to counteract the bitterness. With rabe, kale, beets, etc. I cut/slice them (beets get peeled), then quickly steam them with a little water in a saute pan. Then I add a little olive oil and salt and saute them until they get some color. At the last moment, I add a splash of lemon juice and let it cook for 30 seconds to one minute. This takes out the bitterness and makes them creamy and delicious, but still with a bit of zip. I’ve converted more beet-haters to beet-lovers this way. A little minced garlic at the olive oil stage is a bonus, as is ground rosemary with beets.

  23. Glenda

    I have only blanched it, sometimes frozen it for later in winter, then sauteed it with o.oil and some minced garlic. Taught this way by my italian father-in-law. This is the only way my husband and kids like it. I will try it with the onions, as my husband also loves those.

  24. Pam

    I guess ordinary people call it “Rob” but my daughter’s 98 y.o. Italian American father-in-law (she and her husband are in their late 40s) grew up in Nutley NJ in an Italian community and they all refer to it as “Robby” so there are many versions of the word. He eats “Robby” many times a week. He himself prepares a big batch and refrigerates it. Perhaps that’s why he is still working at my son-in-law’s company at age 98. He also makes homemade pasta for all the gatherings they have, which are many.

  25. Sassy J

    Love your recipe, Elise! One of my dear friends who goes on archeology digs in Italy every summer introduced me to this recipe–and I love it! No cooking involved. Chop broccoli rabe (mostly leaves and florets, but by all means as long as the stems are thin, chop them up too). Sprinkle with sea salt (depends on how much rabe you have–1 heaping teaspoon?), sliver or chopped garlic, a few tablespoons of olive oil. Put in fridge for at least an hour. Salt acidity takes out bitterness. Put on bruschetta, can add fresh tomatoes, cheese (parm reg), or just delicisou as is…

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. 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

  29. 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

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