Brocoli rabe, sauteed in garlic and oil, is one of my favorite vegetables. But this was not always the case. Believe it or not, the broccoli rabe we know and love today was not the brocoli rabe of times past. While Italian farmers are responsible for bringing broccoli rabe to the States in the early 1920s, the popularity of broccoli rabe did not occur until the late 1960s, and even then, you did not readily find it in supermarkets. My mom used to get it from the vegetable vendor, who came to our street twice a week with a truck full of fruits and vegetables. This broccoli rabe was very different from what we know now. It was very bitter. My mom always bought it when it was available. She cooked it to death to get the bitterness out, and then sauteed it with oil and garlic. Pass the spinach please. This bitter green was not for me. Then in the late 1970s, you started to see this vegetable on menus in Italian restaurants in New York City. Shortly thereafter, there it was, in the produce aisle of most food stores.
I have had many of my non-Italian friends tell me they are “afraid” of brocoli rabe. I get it. I was initially afraid of broccoli rabe myself. I didn’t know what to do with it, and I certainly didn’t want to make something as bitter as I remembered. But this “new” broccoli rabe was different. It was produced on farms in California and did not have that bitter taste. It has taken me a long time to lose my fear, but finally, I see just how simply you need to prepare this vegetable to make it taste absolutely delicious as a side dish to any meal. Sometime I even eat in all alone with a piece of nice crusty Italian bread. My husband tells me that he used to eat broccoli rabe sandwiches in his youth and his friends would laugh at first, and later begged him for a bite.
So I hope these simple instructions will persuade you to make this not so bitter green for your family. Do not be afraid!
2 heads broccoli rabe
4 cloves of garlic, sliced or smashed.
1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more if desired
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Wash brocoli rabe and cut off the thick stems at the bottom.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe. Bring to a boil again and then cook for another minute or two.
3. Meanwhile sauté garlic and red pepper in the heated olive oil.
4. Drain the brocoli rabe, saving a cup of water.
5. Add the brocoli rabe to the pan with garlic, red pepper and oil. Toss well. Add some of the water if you want to moisten it.