Over eating spinach? Try this dark leafy green with bite instead

Related to the turnip family: Italian-style rapini sauteed in olive oil and garlic.
Related to the turnip family: Italian-style rapini sauteed in olive oil and garlic. Photo: Shutterstock

What is rapini? How do you cook it?

Rapini is one of those vegetables that is easily overlooked in the grocery shop. 

Also known as broccoli rabe or raab, rapini is a favourite vegetable in Italian cooking and, according to the Food Lover's Companion, it's related to both the cabbage and turnip families. 

In Australia, it can be found at specialty grocers and farmers' markets. Or you can easily buy seeds online and grow your own.

Rapini, or broccoli rabe, may be tricky to find but worth the hunt.
Rapini, or broccoli rabe, may be tricky to find but worth the hunt. Photo: Shutterstock

While it's a cousin of the common broccoli, rapini is darker green, has a bitter taste and has more leaves, which are edible, around the top buds or florets. Rapini's stalk is slender and not as thick as broccoli. It's also leafer than broccolini.

While Rapini's bitter taste can shy people away from it, some sources say that's part of its appeal. Think of its bitterness like that of radicchio. But there are ways to tame that bitterness.

"Leaving the leafy parts of the vegetable intact during cooking [and the florets in particular] reduces the bitterness caused when the vegetable is cut or chewed," according to the Cook's Illustrated website.

Orecchiette con le cime di rapa e le acciughe, made with rapini and anchovy, is popular in southern Italy.
Orecchiette con le cime di rapa e le acciughe, made with rapini and anchovy, is popular in southern Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

"Because the heat of cooking then deactivates one of the enzymes that would otherwise cause bitter flavour, the rabe tastes far more mellow."

How do you cook with rapini?

One way to cook rapini, recommended by Cook's Illustrated, is grilling it. When grilled in the oven, their website says, it "develops deep, nutty-sweet caramelisation that complements what remains of the rabe's strong flavour."

You can also blanch the rapini, and then saute it in olive oil and garlic and top it with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Rapini also takes well to the barbecue. Toss with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Put directly on a the barbecue for a couples minutes per side. Or you can use a grill basket.


What are the health benefits?

One of things to like about rapini is that it's a dark leafy green and considered a nutritional all-star. Dark leafy greens provide plenty of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants that many health sources say can help ward off certain diseases.

A June 2018 Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter reported that dark green leafy greens, which are part the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, are one of the diet's healthy foods to eat for brain health.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet incorporates strategies from the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diets. MIND recommends eating 10 healthy foods a specific number of times a day or week. The target foods including eating whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, fish and legumes.

In one study, researchers at Rush University in Chicago, found that following a MIND diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. The findings were published in 2015 and showed that adhering closely to a MIND diet was associated with 53 per cent less risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Pasta with prawns and asparagus recipe 

Serves: 4

The high amount of calories and fat is because of the olive oil and cheese. You can adjust the amount of oil, cheese, shrimp and pasta or serving size.


Salt to taste

450g dried linguine

⅔ cup shredded parmesan cheese

½ cup fresh lemon juice

⅔ cup olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

450g cooked shrimp (thawed if frozen)

450g fresh asparagus, washed, stem removed, roughly chopped

1 bunch rapini (also called broccoli rabe or raab)

Chopped parsley and shredded parmesan for garnish, optional


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season it with salt. Stir in the linguine, and bring water back to a boil.

Meanwhile, mix the parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper. Season with salt if desired. Set lemon sauce aside.

About 2 minutes before the pasta is done, add the shrimp, asparagus and rapini to the pasta. Continue cooking until the asparagus is just crisp tender, the shrimp is heated through and the rapini is just about wilted.

Remove 1 to 1½ cups of the cooking liquid and drain the rest. Do not rinse.

Return all the pasta ingredients to the pot you cooked it in. Stir in the lemon sauce and heat through. If the sauce seems like not enough, thin it a little with the reserved cooking water. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl, and garnish with parsley and additional cheese if you like.

Detroit Free Press