Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

Broccoli rabe, blanched first to take the edge off the bitterness, then sautéed with caramelized onions, garlic, and a dash of chili pepper.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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 31 Comments

  • Tom Halpin Jr

    Love the Broccoli Rabe ! It only takes a few extra steps but, I like to Blanche first in chicken stock, then saute, adding some roasted garlic, finish up with some lemon juice…Oh yeah ! Now when I try to replicate a Tony Lukes Italian Pork, ya gotta add some roasted peppers ….take your tongue for sleigh ride !

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

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