GC #19 – Rapini, Napini, and Broccoli Rabe

My local CSA has been sending quart zip lock bags of napini.   It’s hard to find recipes for napini, but its cousin rapini is a stable of Mediterranean cooking.

Even’ Star Organic farm’s cookbook, Winter Foods, has three recipes.  I’ve tried two of them and they are outstanding.”

Rapini and its cousins have many spiked leaves that surround a green bud that looks a little bit like a small broccoli.  My CSA farmer Brett Grohsgal writes, “We tried to harvest ones in the bud stage, not the flower stage, to maximize shelf life. Please refrigerate asap, and cook within 4 days. There can be a strong cabbage-like odor in the napini when raw. This disappears upon cooking and derives from the same anti-oxidants that make the members of this broccoli family so famed in fighting cancers.”  The flowers opened in my refrigerator.  They are edible, and added a dash of color to both dishes I tested.

Rapini and its cousins are members of a large plant genus, brassica, the same family as cabbages, turnips, mustards and cole crops like broccoli.  The genus includes over 30 wild species and hybrids. It’s native to western Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate regions in Asia, but is now grown all over the world.  Here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s a perfect early spring vegetable.  Try it.  It’s a great source of vitamins A, C and K as well as potassium, calcium, iron and fiber.

I love the nutty, slightly bitter and pungent flavor, but my CSA tells me it’s not for everyone. These two recipes could make you change your mind if you are one of the doubters.

In Sicily, Rapini with sausage and pasta is a classic.  I’ve read many different recipes, most using lamb sausage.  None has tasted as good as this simple dish from Brett Grohsgal and Julia Shanks, in Winter CSA Cookbook.  I’ve made a few minor variations for my family.

Ingredients for Rapini with Sausage and Pasta

1 pound sweet lamb sausage (I used some lamb sausage I had made from scratch and already cooked.  See Minced Meats Blog #____)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch rapini (in my case a quart ziplock bag stuffed with rapini.
2-3 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon chile flakes
¾ pound pasta (I actually used much less).
¼ cup freshly graded parmesan
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Wash the rapini and chop roughly into 1 inch pieces.
Heat a large skillet over a high heat, add the olive oil and the sausage slices and cook until the sausage starts to brown. (I used cooked sausage last time I made this, so I skipped this stage of course).
In the same pan add a bit more olive oil and the garlic and cook until the garlic starts to brown, then add the Rapini and cook for another 2 to 4 minutes, or just until it turns bright green. Add the sausage.
Meantime, cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente.
Mix the vegetables, sausage and pasta together and add salt, freshly grated black pepper and lemon juice to taste.  Serve sprinkled with the grated parmesan.

Rapini with sausage compliments the pungent rapini taste with the strong lamb flavor for a perfect combination.  Brett and Julia’s other recipe uses a touch of sweetness to modify the bitterness of the rapini.

Ingredients for Rapini with Tasted Sesame Seeds and Ginger
1 quart ziplock bag of rapini and napini
2 teaspoons raw sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 clove of garlic chopped
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Honey (optional)

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds until they are golden brown.  Immediately add sesame oil and garlic.  Sauté until the garlic begins to brown.
Add ginger and cook for 10 seconds.   Add rapini, mirin and soy sauce and cook until the rapini is just barely wilted.
Add a dollop of honey if you want and even kids will love it.

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is a journalist and filmmaker who is now teaching at Montgomery Community College
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