Thursday, December 16, 2010
Broccoli Rabe or Broccolini?
Well, I enjoy both, but if it's a contest, I will choose broccoli rabe every time. Recently, as I was browsing vegan blogs and discussion boards, I saw a discussion about broccoli rabe that identified it also as broccolini. I knew this not to be true, as I've eaten both (they taste very different) and our local Publix displays them next to one another, but I stopped myself in the moment from being a petty know-it-all since I have some recent experience with stirring hubris. I resolved to look into the matter further before addressing the topic.
I will admit that, as I began eating this wonderful vegetable several years ago, I also misidentified broccoli rabe with broccolini. The confusion is understandable. Both veggies appear in the stores I frequent sporadically, and are labelled inconsistently. I always have to help the checkout clerk with every available alias I can retrieve. I have seen broccolini also as broccoletti and asparation, and I have seen broccoli rabe as broccoli raab, broccoli rape (!) and rapini. Strangely, broccolini costs more than broccoli rabe. I believe it is because of its neater, more uniform appearance. Broccoli rabe looks like more of a shaggy mess.
Wikipedia classifies rapini as a member of the turnip family and surmises that it probably descends from a wild herb. I am sure I have never enjoyed a turnip, but because I love rapini so, I may give it another try. The vegetable grows throughout the Mediterranean region and is commonly used in Italian cuisine.
Broccolini, on the other hand, (according to Wikipedia) is a cultivar, a hybrid created from broccoli and kai-lan (Chinese broccoli). Wikipedia says broccolini is a registered trademark of Mann Packing Company, Inc.
My research on these two veggies is admittedly shallow, and if I were writing a book on the subject I would of course delve deeper, but this is only a blog post, and what I've gleaned from Wikipedia jives with what I already believe to be true from my own experience preparing and eating these delicious greens.
I have found broccolini to be a lighter, more tender version of broccoli. It is slightly sweet and fresh, and can be easily overcooked.
Rapini, or broccoli rabe, on the other hand, has a much more complex flavor. Each element of the plant, the bud, the stalk and the leaf, has a unique texture and subtly different flavor. I find the best preparation to be a simple saute while stirring over medium-high heat, longer than one would cook a more tender vegetable, about 10-15 minutes. If it is cooked for a shorter period of time, the bitter note will be more pronounced rather than the satisfying, subtle, addictive aftertaste that the longer cooking time affords. When I fix the broccoli rabe this way, with plenty of olive oil, shallots and garlic, the stalks are crisp-tender and the buds are soft and the leaves wilted. The color is still bright and fresh. It tastes like Tuscany.
Will you look at that? I added cooked, pillowy soft Gia Russa Whole Wheat and Sweet Potato Gnocchi to the cooked panful, and it was sublime! I hope you can see the texture of the broccoli rabe. If I took one of the wooden spoons and pressed upon a flowery bud, it would go right through it, but the stalks still resist. My plan was to eat half of this and look forward to the leftovers for lunch the next day, but, sadly, I couldn't stop eating it so I've got nothing left today. Yep, I ate the whole panful. I suffered no ill effects aside from an overfilled belly for about 15 minutes.
If you are not a fan of a bitter vegetable, try the broccolini instead of the broccoli rabe. As for me, I'm all about the broccoli rabe! Can't get enough of it!
On another subject, thanks go out to all of you who have sent me good wishes while I was sick. It was indeed my first illness since becoming vegan on February 11th of this year, and did come on the heels of my touting my excellent vegan health. I will try to be more humble about my good fortune in the future. I will say that I believe it may have been the flu since I was absolutely fine one moment, and SICK the next: fever, chills, weakness, sinus, throat, phlegm (sorry). The whole thing lasted three days, and now I am fine. I am positive that pre-vegan, I would still be suffering. So my assessment is that the immune system is stronger, but not invincible.