Call it what you will — raab, rabe, rapine, rapini, Italian or Chinese broccoli. It’s all the same thing — a rapidly growing annual, a distant cousin of broccoli but more closely related to turnips. All are members of the brassica family. This is your typical wild cousin — a little nutty, sometimes pungent and tending toward bitter. It can be planted at almost any time of the year, grows easily from seeds, sprouts and then bolts before you know it. Best to thin it out and give it plenty of space to express itself. Territorial Seeds has seeds if you want to plant your own. Nash’s Organic sells a wide variety of raabs at the Farmers Market so you can try them out before committing to inviting them into your garden.
Now, here is where the family relations get a little fuzzy. You can also eat the flowers from plants that have over-wintered like broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and arugula. These stems, flowers and unopened flower buds are also often called raab and are delicious, even straight from the garden. If you need to move over-wintered vegetables to make space for your spring crops, cut off any tender stems and flowers and eat them on the spot or take them in the kitchen to stir-fry, steam or broil them. More than likely, these plants have already found their way to the compost pile. If you enjoy their taste and have space for a quick crop, planting from seed is the way to go.
The most common way to cook raab, Chinese or Italian broccoli is to saute it with garlic and maybe some red pepper flakes. I made this simple dish and added some bacon for extra flavor but it can easily be vegetarian mixed with other vegetables. Just wash and cut off the woody ends. Cut the remaining stem, leaves and flowers into pieces 1″ long. I like to leave the flower heads whole.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Lightly saute some chopped garlic until soft. Saute the raab. If it requires more cooking, you can put a lid over the pan and let it steam for a couple of minutes until tender. Salt & pepper to taste and possibly toss in some red pepper flakes.
Another alternative is just to graze in the garden, pick a couple of flower heads or buds and toss them into a salad raw. Here’s a photo from Sally of one perfect for picking in her garden.
Raab may be a little on the wild side but is loaded with vitamins A, C & K along with potassium, calcium & iron. You can eat the entire plant and once it’s gone, you will probably look forward to seeing it again.