Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

No more bitter broccoli rabe! Learn how to cook broccoli rabe and take off the bitter edge with this simple recipe. Sweet caramelized onions and a dash of chili pepper turns broccoli rabe into a great side dish.

Broccoli rob on a platter with sautéed onions.
Elise Bauer

What Is Broccoli Rabe?

Have you ever cooked with broccoli rabe (usually pronounced "rob" or "robbie", 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.

Blanch Broccoli Rabe to Remove Bitterness

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.

Close up of fresh broccoli rabe.
Elise Bauer

How to Serve 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 love 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.

How to Buy and Store Broccoli Rabe

Look for broccoli rabe in early spring when it's in peak season. It should have bright green, crisp leaves, firm stalks, and dark green florets that are tightly closed. Avoid broccoli rabe with yellow leaves or flowers.

Store it in the refrigerator, unwashed in a plastic bag, for 3 to 5 days.

The Difference Between Broccoli Rabe and Broccolini

The names may sound similar, but broccoli rabe and broccolini are actually not even closely related as species. While broccolini is a derivative of broccoli, broccoli rabe -- which is also known as rapini, broccoletti, and broccoli raab -- is more closely related to the turnip. Broccoli rabe is distinguished by its bitter flavor and many leaves; broccolini has a mild, sweeter flavor and relatively few leaves.

Even More Ways to Enjoy Broccoli Rabe

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Broccoli Rabe with Caramelized Onions

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into slivers, lengthwise (with the grain)

  • 1 large bunch broccoli rabe (raab, rapini), rinsed and cut into 2-inch long pieces

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, sliced

  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

  • Salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Brown the onions:

    Heat 2 tablespoons of 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.

    A skillet with sliced onions to make a broccoli rabe recipe.
    Elise Bauer
    Onions cooked in a skillet for a broccoli rabe recipe.
    Elise Bauer
  2. Blanch the broccoli rabe:

    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.

    A pot of water with rabe inside.
    Elise Bauer
    A bowl of blanched rapini to show how to cook broccoli rabe.
    Elise Bauer
  3. Sauté the rabe and onions with chili flakes and garlic:

    Once the onions are lightly browned, remove them from the pan to a bowl. Using the same pan, add another tablespoon 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 two longer if you skipped the blanching.

    Sprinkle with salt and pepper to serve.

    Onions and broccoli rob cooked in a skillet.
    Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
82 Calories
7g Fat
4g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 82
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 117mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 1%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 13mg 64%
Calcium 68mg 5%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 146mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.