Broccoli Rabe Sauté
When I shopped at Greenmarket last week, I did not limit myself to fiddleheads, even if they were my most exciting purchase. The market brimmed over with spring greens! Spinach, of course – sauteed with eggs for lunch the other day. Meltingly tender Swiss chard. Arugula – so that’s what I’ll serve with the Peanutty Chickpea Spread until I get cucumbers… Tender little turnips and their greens, which I just barely heated through – they were too delicate to need more!
And broccoli rabe – another taste of spring, here. Broccoli rabe, or rapini, is an Italian vegetable, not in fact broccoli at all, though related. It’s actually closer to those turnips! The taste is similar, though, with a slightly, pleasantly, bitter edge. In Italy, and other warmer areas, it’s a winter vegetable. Here – where we’re lucky if we can keep kale alive, but can’t harvest even that – we get rabe in spring. Early spring if the winter was warm enough for the plants to survive – this was overwintered. And they flower! See the pretty little yellow buds and flowers? So much fun! (If your broccoli flowers, it is past its prime, but this is fine.)
So it’s time for my annual post on the basic method of cleaning and cooking greens. I’ll write about greens of all kinds from now until November, and will refer back to this post… I use this technique for all greens except collards and winter (curly) kale, which are too tough for it. (Well – at this time of year, I can even get baby collards tender enough for this!) And while this works for the turnip greens I get, I understand that some cultivars do need the same long simmering that collards do. But spinach, chard, beet greens, all do well this way.
First, you need to wash them – and this is the same for even the toughest collards and kale. Greens are grown in sandy soil. The ones in supermarkets – especially the packaged ones – have been through commercial cleaning (which does add a few days to their journey to your kitchen) but still benefit from further washing – nothing like a bit of grit to ruin your lovely dinner! And some greens direct from a farmer may even need two (or more!) rinses, until you are certain they’re clean.
The most effective way is to wash them in a sink (or bowl) full of water, and then lift them out. Lifting them out is key – it leaves behind grit that can stay in a colander if you just rinse them in it. I generally find it easiest to chop them first, and wash the bite sized pieces, though once in a while I will fuss with individual leaves for a specific presentation – stuffed chard, for example. (Have I written that up? I don’t think so… Remind me to do that, this summer…)
So – take your greens, and lay them on a cutting board. Cut off the ends of the stems – and how much you cut will vary by their texture and your taste. Most spinach is tender, most kale is stringy, anything that has sat a while since harvest will be tougher than it was. I happily eat chard stems, but many people do not. Use your own judgement… And then, chop the rest into bite sized pieces.
Fill the sink or (as I do) a large bowl with water, and put the chopped greens into it. Swish them around thoroughly. Then lift them up and out (I often use a Chinese spider strainer to get all the floating bits) and drain. I often use a wire strainer I can hang over my sink, but I know that’s not an option for most of you – a salad spinner works fine. The trick here is that you don’t want them dripping wet – but you don’t want to dry them completely, either. You’re going to cook the greens in “the water clinging to their leaves” as it is usually phrased.
Once they are just damp, shall we say, take a large pan and heat it. I like a saute pan or wok, but any large fry pan will work. This is the time to add other flavors, if you are so inclined. I just heated a little olive oil, here, but sauteing some garlic and chili pepper in that oil is a wonderful combination with broccoli rabe. Sometimes I’ll chop a little bacon and render it out, maybe add onion, and use that to cook spinach or kale. You can use a neutral oil and curry spices, or any other seasoning that you would like with the rest of your meal.
Once the oil is heated, and any seasoning you choose to use is ready, drop in the greens. Stir them well – I don’t know how I did this before I started using tongs in the kitchen! – to coat lightly with the oil, which will start them wilting at once. If they don’t all fit, put some in, stir, and add more as they wilt down – it’s astonishing how far most greens cook down.
Keep tossing, you will watch them turn a brighter, more intense green, as they become tender.
Cooking time varies considerably. Very fresh, very young spinach is cooked almost as soon as it heats through. As the summer wears on, even the same kinds of vegetables start to take longer… Watch it, maybe taste a bite, you’ll get to know what it looks like with experience.
And there you are. Sauteed broccoli rabe – or spinach, or chard, or kale, or… They have different flavors, and different textures, but are still generally interchangeable in recipes. Now, the rabe is a classic added to an Italian bean soup, but try it on the side, or with eggs – or indeed in any recipe where you might use cooked spinach. And enjoy it now, while it is available!
Broccoli rabe, and cooking greens - the basic method I use to wash and prepare a wide variety of leafy green vegetables.
10 minPrep Time
5 minCook Time
15 minTotal Time
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (or other leafy greens)
- oil for pan
- minced garlic - optional
- Trim stems and tough parts of the rabe. Chop the rest in bite sized pieces.
- Fill a sink or large bowl with water. Add the greens and swish around to wash. Lift them out, leaving dirt and grit behind, and place in strainer or salad spinner. Dry until still just damp, not dripping, but with some water clinging to leaves.
- Heat a saute pan or large fry pan. Add oil and heat. If desired, add minced garlic (or other seasoning) now, and saute.
- Add greens to pan. Stir well to coat with oil. (The easiest way I know is to use tongs.) Continue stirring periodically while the greens cook down, until they are cooked to your taste.