Rapini is the New Broccoli

When I tried to grow broccoli in the past I got more aphids than produce. Plus broccoli takes up a lot of room in the garden for a very small return, which is why I’ve switched to rapini instead.

Rapini, according to Wikipedia, is known under a confusing jumble of names including broccoli rabe, broccoli raab, broccoletti, saag, broccoli di rape, cime di rapa, rappi, friarielli, and grelos. It’s a member of the brassica family and is closely related to the turnip. And, unlike most vegetables found in our supermarkets, it actually tastes like something, with a mustardy bitterness I really love.

I planted about 18 square feet worth and Mrs. Homegrown and I have been eating it for weeks tossed in pasta, omelets and on its own. Both the flowerettes and the leaves are edible. The plant continues to send up flowers even after the center one is picked, so you can get a continuous harvest for a few weeks. I’ve had some aphids, but nothing like when I’ve tried to grow broccoli or cauliflower. It’s a cool season crop, so here in Los Angeles we plant it in the fall for a winter harvest. You just gotta pick those flower buds soon, before they actually start to flower, otherwise you’re in for extra bitterness.

The variety I planted is another winner from the Franchi seed company, Cima di Rapa Quarantina. As this vegetable doesn’t ship well, it’s an obvious choice for the home garden. While fresh homegrown broccoli is amazing, I still like the stronger flavor of rapini better.

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  1. You might enjoy it in a traditional pasta dish from southern Italy, Abruzzo if I’m not mistaken. Orecchiette con broccoli – in this case, the very vegetable you’re referring to. Start with olio e aglia (olive oil and garlic), add hot pepper flakes and a few mashed anchovies (really, try this even if you think you don’t like anchovies), and some rapini cooked well enough just so it starts to disintegrate (steamed/parboiled and then chopped and added to the sauce in the pan). Use more rapini than you first estimate you will need. I don’t think this needs any cheese, but you could try a little pecorino to stay in the southern Italian mood.

    I love this recipe with regular broccoli too, but rapini is authentic and best. Must try growing some sometime, though piracicaba is the trial brassica for this year.

  2. Hi all,
    writing from Italy, these are cime di rapa, no doubt about it.
    If you want a veeeeery easy but light and awesome pasta follow my advice:
    put the water to boil (and add salt), take the cime di rapa and throw them in the water togeter with the pasta (best choice here is orecchiette but any short pasta will be ok). when the pasta is ready (10 to 12 mins depending by the kind of pasta) drain and put all in a bowl. Just add extra virgin olive oil (a lot) and cheese (i prefer parmisan but also pecorino is fine) and a big grind of pepper…. Wonderfull and super easy.
    Of course this is not the real orecchiette con cime di rapa recipe but the result is awesome with no hard work,
    Ciao all

  3. how close together are your cima di rapa plants in that 18 sq ft? I’m also trying it and couldn’t figure out how big the plants would get.

  4. @Joanne P

    The plants are spaced 10 inches apart. Erik used the French intensive pattern when planting. They might be a teeny tiny bit tight, but I prefer tight to overly spacious any day. At any rate, they’re fine and healthy at 10″.

  5. I keep striking put with rapini. In my garden they grow too thin and spindly, then bolt too quickly. I have just about given up on it as something I can’t grow well, but if I ever see these particular seeds I’ll probably fall victim to optimism again.

  6. Colleeen,

    Not sure where you live, but rapini quickly bolts if the temperature gets above the 70s. Here in Los Angeles we have to grow it in the winter. Grow it when it’s cool and good luck next time!

  7. Ahem, I’d like to point out that Botanical Interests also carries rapini or broccoli raab seeds and if you click on the icon in the sidebar to buy seeds a portion of the proceeds helps to support the North Hollywood High School farm and garden project.

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