Also known as Italian broccoli, rapini (botanical name Brassica rapa ruvo) belongs to the mustard family and is a member of the same sub-species that also includes the turnip. This green cruciferous is known by several other names, such as Brassica rapa rapifera, Brassica rapa ruvo, Brassica ruvo as well as Brassica campestris ruvo.
Several parts of this vegetable, which has some resemblance to broccoli, but its bud is not as large as the broccoli's head, are edible, such as the leaves, stems and buds. This green vegetable has a somewhat bitter flavour and is especially associated with Portuguese, Italian and Galician cuisines.
In different places, people know rapini by different names, including cime di rapa, broccoli rabe, rape, broccolini, raab, broccoletti, hon tsai tai and taitcat. This green vegetable is widely used in Chinese and Italian cuisines. Although in some instances it is known by names that are akin to that of broccoli, many features of this vegetable are similar to those of turnip. The leaves of rapini are similar to those of turnip greens. The leaves of this vegetable surround the scattered buds that have resemblance with the slender, leggy stalks of broccoli.
The present-day rapini is believed to have originated in the form of a wild herb either in the Mediterranean region or in China. Currently, this vegetable is tremendously liked and well-accepted in both these regions. Moreover, rapini is also becoming popular among people in the West, where the vegetable is already being cultivated in Arizona, California and New Jersey in North America, Canada and Mexico.
It is worth mentioning here that rapini is the cool-season crop. Therefore, home gardeners should ideally grow this plant either during the fall or in the beginning of spring. If the plants are grown in warm weather conditions, they have an inclination to seed before time. Moreover, it is essential to harvest the plants prior to the opening of the florets. The stems of the vegetables should be cut just a little above the ground or at the level of the ground. Multiple cuttings from the plants are possible provided the plants are harvested, when the weather conditions are still sufficiently cool.
You can buy rapini throughout the year. This vegetable is available in the supermarket's produce section. While purchasing rapini you should always ensure that the leaves of the vegetable are vivid green and do not have any spots or are yellowish. Also avoid buying rapini with wilting leaves. In addition, you should look for rapini with closed buds, while the stalks ought to be crisp as well as fresh-looking. Ideally the plants ought to be harvested or bought just prior to consuming them. Alternatively, you may also store them unwashed in punctured plastic bags and put in the refrigerator's crisper draw. Storing the vegetable in this manner will keep it well for five days.
Rapini is low in calorie content, but rich in several nutrients, including vitamins and essential minerals. One serving of cooked rapini (approximately 220 grams or 1/2 a bunch of the vegetable) provides just 75 calories. On the other hand, the same amount of rapini encloses vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, riboflavin, thiamine, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and iron. It also contains very low amount of saturated fat, but is a wonderful resource of dietary fiber. Rapini has a slightly bitter and strong flavour, making it an excellent complement for milder foods, such as white beans, pasta and polenta. It also goes well with foods having potent flavours, such as anchovy, chilli, and garlic.
Prior to using rapini, it is necessary for cooks to get rid of the girt by thoroughly washing the leaves and florets of the vegetable under running cold water. Subsequently, they need to cut off and remove the woody stem base and also slice the leaves, stalks and the tips of the vegetable into small pieces measuring about 2 inches (5 cm). You can cook rapini by steaming, stir-frying, sautéing or braising the vegetable. If you like, you may also blanch the vegetable for a brief period (two minutes) and remove the water prior to sautéing. This will help to lessen the bitterness of this green vegetable.
Rapini possesses several leaves that are spiked and encircle the bevy of green buds which look like the undersized broccoli heads. Often you may find very small yellow flowers blossoming among the green buds. These flowers are also edible. Rapini is known to have a bitter, nutty and pungent flavour.
Similar to broccoli or turnip, rapini also offers numerous health benefits. Some of the advantages of consuming rapini are discussed briefly below.
Choose the rapini bunches together with the fleshy, moist stems and deep green leaves. When rapini is young, its buds resemble that of tender broccoli. These buds may be closed or also partially opened. Avoid the rapini which has most of its buds open or the leaves that have wilted or spotted. Even avoid purchasing rapini having yellowish leaves.
The best way to store rapini is to cover the vegetable with paper towels and then place the vegetable in perforated plastic bags and keep them inside the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. The vegetable will keep well for about five days when stored in this manner.
Wash the rapini just prior to using it. Never store rapini in moist conditions, for it will make the vegetable decompose more rapidly.
Another way of storing rapini is to freeze it immediately after blanching it in salted boiling water for only two minutes. Once the vegetable is blanched, deplete all the water from rapini and allow it to cool. Subsequently, put the vegetable in an airtight container and place it inside the freezer. When you choose to store the vegetable in this way, it will keep well for about a year.
At the outset, rinse the vegetable thoroughly and make a cut measuring a quarter on an inch through the base of the stem. In addition, slice the stalks into smaller pieces, each measuring two inches.
In fact, rapini is very similar to different other leafy vegetables and you can cook it by braising, blanching, steaming or even sautéing. If you want to blanch rapini, immerse the cut vegetable into saline boiling water and remove them exactly after two minutes. You may also use plain boiling water instead of salted water.
You can braise the vegetable; place it inside the skillet with some liquid, just enough to cover it. Let the vegetable pieces to simmer in low heat for approximately 10 to 20 minutes.
To sauté this vegetable, you need to add the cut rapini to an oil pan that has been gently preheated. After adding the vegetable pieces heat the pan again for three minutes, while stirring them continuously.
Steaming the vegetable is very easy. Put the sliced pieces of rapini in a pot containing very little water, cover the pot and put it on low heat till the leaves begin to wilt. Alternately, you may also put the raw rapini in a steamer basket and cook it over seething water till all the leaves have wilted.