Saturday, November 10, 2012

Broccoli, Broccoli Rabe, Broccolini: What's the Difference?

Broccoli rabe (mustard family)
Has anyone else noticed that commercially grown broccoli rabe (also known as rappini and broccoli rapé) is starting to look an awful lot like baby broccoli?

Broccolini (trademarked hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan)
I spotted this trend maybe a year or two after seeing Rachel Ray cook with broccoli rabe on 30 Minute Meals (there should be a hyphen in the title of that show; there isn't). Let's presume that was 2005 or 2006, back when I lived in San Francisco and spent a lot of time watching The Food Network while working out at a nice gym that had television screens on every cardio machine. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray back then. Don't worry. I'm over it now.

Broccoli rabe tastes like a dark, leafy, bitter green. It's in the mustard family.

Broccoli, marked by unique blueish-green florets, is related to cabbage.

Before 2006 or so, I'd buy broccoli rabe and occasionally find one or two broccoli-like florets among the greens. But they were rare. You'd easily mistake them for "baby broccoli," or Broccolini—yes, capitalized because it's a trademarked name. It's a man-made hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan (also known as "Chinese broccoli" and, similar to broccoli rabe, is actually a dark leafy green), according to Wikipedia. Sometimes kai-lan is called "Chinese kale" which seems to me like a more descriptive way to put it to Americans.

Broccoli (cabbage family)
I'd buy broccoli rabe and find one or two "bloomed" florets, and I wasn't even sure if I was supposed to eat them. With broccoli rabe, it's all about the leaves and the stems which become tender quickly when steamed or sautéed.

More recently, though, the stuff in the store is half florets and half leafy greens. If I had to guess, I'd say the vegetable gained popularity a few years ago, but because of the name, Americans expected it to be somewhat similar to broccoli. And so the growers made that happen. Again, I don't know if that's true, but it's my guess.

Today I went to the Green Market (New York City's farmers' market) and tada! Real broccoli rabe! If you're looking for the real deal, that wonderful bitter green that sautées up nicely with a bit of minced garlic and some olive oil, try hitting up the famers directly. They know what broccoli rabe is supposed to be.

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