With its deeply ruffled leaves and demure green florets, broccoli rabe (pronounced "rahb") looks like a kinder, gentler broccoli. But it's far from mild-mannered. This bold member of the Brassica, or cabbage, genus has a bitter edge similar to that of its cousin, mustard greens. A staple in the Italian kitchen, broccoli rabe shines as a counterpoint to starchy, sweet, and spicy foods (think: pasta and garlic), and it makes as much of an impact on your health as it does on your taste buds.
The big news with broccoli rabe is its cancer-preventing potential. Like all Brassicas, it's a rich source of glucosinolates, which your body converts to cancer-fighting sulforophanes and indoles. Studies show that these compounds are particularly effective against stomach, lung, and colon cancers, and promising research hints at protective effects against breast and prostate cancers as well.
A 3 1/2-ounce serving of broccoli rabe provides more than half your daily requirement of antioxidant-rich vitamins A and C, both of which fight off dangerous free radicals that can cause damage to your body's cells.The bitter green is also a good source of folate (a B vitamin that protects against birth defects and heart disease), not to mention potassium, fiber, and calcium.
How to Buy
Broccoli rabe is available year-round, but cool weather brings out the best in this vegetable, mellowing its harsh edge slightly. Depending on where you shop, you may see it labeled as broccoli raab, rapini, broccoletti, or cima di rapa. Look for vibrant green leaves and plump stems; avoid bunches with yellowed leaves, flowering buds, or dry-ended stalks. Smaller-leaved plants are younger and therefore milder and more tender than larger-leaved specimens. And take a sniff; a "cabbage-y" smell is a clue they're past their prime.
Reduce the broccoli rabe bite by blanching and shocking it (giving it a brief dunk in salted boiling water followed by a dip in ice water). To maximize freshness, remove the twist tie and store the greens, wrapped in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag, in the refrigerator for up to four days.
by Cheryl Redmond | recipes by Allie Lewis