Rapini/Broccoli Rabe

A descendent of a wild herb, rapini (a.k.a. broccoli rabe) was originally grown in China or the Meditterranean basin. Now available year-round in Canada, rapini is considered a nutritional powerhouse and culinary gem with a delicious flavour.

Rapini/Broccoli Rabe

Nutrition Notes

Rapini is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, folate, calcium, potassium and beta-carotene. Just half a cup (125 ml) of cooked rapini has 31 milligrams of vitamin C (35 to 40% of a day's worth!), 60 micrograms of folate (15% of your daily requirement) and 1.8 milligrams of beta-carotene. 

Rapini also contains a phytochemical called lutein, an antioxidant that protects the eye's retina from oxidative damage caused that could lead to cataract formation.  Studies show that people who consume the most lutein from their diet have a 20 to 50 percent lower risk of cataracts compared with people whose diets contain the least.  

Adding lutein-rich vegetables to your diet such as rapini, spinach, kale and romaine lettuce may even slow the onset of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that attacks the center of the retina and diminishes the ability to see fine details.

Rapini is also good for your bones thanks to its sizable vitamin K content. A Tufts University study found that women who consumed the most vitamin K had significantly better bone mineral density compared to those whose diets contained the least.

Scientists speculate it takes 200 micrograms of vitamin K to help keep bones from thinning, which is more than the official recommended intake of 90 (females) and 120 (males) micrograms per day. One half cup serving of rapini makes a hefty contribution delivering 217 micrograms.

Canada's Food Guide recommends that adults and kids eat at least one serving of leafy green vegetables every day to help boost their intake of vitamins A and C.

Here's the nutrient breakdown for one half cup (125 ml) serving of cooked rapini:

 

 Calories    28 kcal
 Protein  2.5 g
 Fat  0 g
 Carbohydrate  2 g
 Fibre  2.4 g
 Beta-carotene  1.8 mg
 Folate  60 mcg
 Vitamin C  31 mg
 Vitamin K

 169 mcg

 Calcium  100 mg
 Potassium  292 mg

(Source: Canadian Nutrient File 2007b)

Varieties

Rapini is scientifically classified as Brassica rapa, and, though it resembles broccoli is actually closely related to the turnip.

Other common names for rapini include broccoli raab and broccoli di rape. Most rapini found in Canada comes from California, where it's available year round with the peak season being from late fall to early spring.

Buying

Choose bunches of rapini with plump, moist stems and dark green leaves. Young rapini has broccoli-like buds that are closed or partially opened. Avoid rapini that has most of its buds open or has wilted, spotted or yellowish leaves.

Storing

To keep rapini at its freshest, wrap it in paper towel and store in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator vegetable crisper for up to five days.

Wash rapini only before using it.  If stored wet, the excess moisture will cause rapini to deteriorate faster.

Rapini can also be frozen after it's blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes. After blanching, drain the rapini, allow it to cool, then put it in a sealed container. It can be stored in the freezer for up to a year.

Preparing

First, rinse and trim a quarter of an inch from the bottom of the stems and cut the stalks crosswise into 2-inch pieces.

Rapini, like other leafy greens, can be prepared by blanching, braising, sautéing or steaming.

To blanch rapini, drop into salted (optional) boiling water and remove after two minutes.

To braise, put rapini in a skillet with just enough liquid to cover it. Let the rapini simmer for 10 to 20 minutes on low heat.

To sauté rapini, add the cut vegetable to a lightly oiled hot pan and heat for three minutes while stirring constantly.

To steam rapini, put it in a pot with very little water, cover and heat on low just until the leaves wilt. Or place uncooked rapini in a steamer basket and cook over simmering water until wilted.

Eating

All the parts of rapini are edible - the stems, the leaves, the buds and even the flowers.

Rapini has an assertive but pleasant bitter taste that mellows with cooking. (If you find the taste of rapini too bitter, blanch it before sauteeing or adding to pastas and stir-fries.)

It pairs nicely with crushed garlic and chilli flakes and is considered a versatile vegetable that can be used in many dishes.

Healthy Ways to Enjoy

Breakfast

  • Add sautéed rapini to an egg white omelet. Pair with a slice of whole grain toast and a glass of orange juice for a delicious way to start your day.

Lunch

  • Saute steamed or blanched rapini with chopped garlic, red chili pepper flakes and chickpeas for a quick vegetarian meal.
  • Add chopped blanched rapini to your favourite quiche recipe.
  • Toss cooled, chopped blanched rapini into a green salad. Garnish with sliced almonds and raisins, drizzle with a vinaigrette.

Dinner

  • Add blanched rapini to mashed or scalloped potatoes for a colorful side dish.
  • Add chopped, sautéed or blanched rapini to a tomato-based pasta sauce. 
  • Stir-fry rapini with sliced carrots, red onion and firm tofu. Season with your favorite Asian-inspired sauce and serve over brown rice for a healthy vegetarian meal.
  • Saute rapini with bell peppers for a vitamin C packed side dish. Click here for a recipe.
  • Give pizza a nutrient boost by adding pieces of blanched rapini before baking in the oven. 

More Information

Did you know? 

  • Rapini is not related to broccoli. It is closely related to turnip, which is why the leaves look like turnip greens.
  • Rapini was introduced to North American in the 1920s by Italian immigrants, said to be farmers.
  • The Chinese have held rapini in high esteem for centuries. In fact, rapini is Hong Kong's most popular vegetable. Chinese rapini is a lighter green colour, not at all bitter or pungent, and more tender than the rapini grown in Italy or Calfornia.