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Merced, California
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Terry & Dave Taylor

Broccoli, Broccolini & Broccoli Rabe

These three vegetables look alike, taste and smell similar and are often used interchangeably in recipes. As hard as it is to believe, these three vegetables are not even in the same family. Yet, all three non-related varieties - being dark leafy greens - provide only 25 no-fat, no-cholesterol, calories per cup, loaded with Vitamin A and C and iron.


Let's start with one of the most common and popular (forget George Bush) vegetables in America - broccoli. In the cauliflower family, brassica oleracea italicais found at good prices year-round in American groceries. Love it or hate it, broccoli is a main-stay in American kitchens and is a versatile veggie served steamed, fried and eaten raw all over the world.

Broccolini was developed by the Sakata Seed Company

Broccolini is a pretty hybrid cousin of broccoli - developed in California by the Sakata Seed Company of Yokohama, Japan. Also known as "Asparation", broccolini is a cross between regular old broccoli and Chinese kale - providing small broccoli flowerettes with long, slender stalks and deep green leaves. Broccolini is readily available in most supermarkets in America and is especially popular in Farmer's Markets.

Brocoli Rabe is also called rapini
Brocoli Rabe

But one of the most popular vegetables in the world is just becoming popular in US supermarkets - broccoli rabe (pronounced robb) is very common in China (especially Hong Kong) and is popular with southern Italian cooks. Appearing like a very leafy broccolini, broccoli rabe is actually a member of the turnip family and the stalks, leaves and flowers are edible. Also called rapini (rah-PEE-nee), this bitter stalk (brassica rabe) has a very pungent flavor and is best served with a plain pasta or polenta.

Look for bright green stalks with dark leaves. Faded, yellowing leaves should be avoided. When you get the greens home, the vegetable will keep - wrapped in plastic - for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

This week my grocer had gorgeous broccoli rabe, so I bought a bunch and cooked it in a very classic Italian dish.

To use, cut the tough stem ends and wash well to remove any sand/dirt. Discard any yellow leaves. Put a pot of salted water to boil. Add washed greens to salted water and blanch until the water returns to a boil, let boil one or two minutes and strain into a colander.

A classic Italian preparation is to sauté 4-8 cloves (your choice, I used six) of finely minced garlic in a large skillet in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When the garlic begins to brown, add one bunch of already-blanched and drained broccoli rabe and about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons dried chilies (optional). Sauté the broccoli rabe in the olive oil and butter mixture for one or two minutes, then toss with one pound of boiled pasta (Bowties or Orecchiette are traditional). Sprinkle with one cup of freshly grated Parmagianno-Reggiano cheese, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Pass additional cheese, if desired. Serve with a nice crusty baguette and a tomato salad for a satisfying vegetarian meal. Of course, Pinot Grigio is perfect with this dish.

You can substitute broccolini (or even broccoli) in this dish, with lovely results.

Eat your greens!

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