Originating in the Mediterranean and also China, Raab or Rapini is one of the most popular vegetables among the Chinese, it is probably the most popular vegetable in Hong Kong and is used extensively in Italian cooking. Flourishing famously in Mediterranean and Chinese cultures, elsewhere it is still a bit of a curiosity.
Unlike normal broccoli, which is from the cabbage family, Broccoli raab is related to turnip. It grows the same as sprouting broccoli but with leaves that look like turnip greens.
The taste is somewhere between broccoli and spinach, but with undercurrents of mustard greens and a delightful, slightly bitter edge softened by just a hint of nutty sweetness.
The sprouts and leaves are cooked just as broccoli, and thinnings are excellent in salads or stir fries, a light steaming brings out its distinctive taste. Each works pretty well in place of the other whether in classic Italian pastas, soups, stews, simply steamed or sautéed alone with a splash of lemon or vinegar and olive oil.
Easy and fast growing, 'Sessantina' meaning ready to eat in just 60 days, it can often be ready in as little as 35 to 40 days. It can be useful as it comes ready when ordinary broccoli isn't available and is great as a very early spring crop in a polytunnel. But this isn't just a replacement for broccoli, it is a great vegetable in its own right!
Prepare the site:
All brassica crops grow best in partial-shade, in firm, fertile, free-draining soil. Start digging over your soil in autumn, removing any stones you find and working in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Tread on the soil to remove any air pockets and make the surface very firm. Brassicas will fail if the soil is too acidic so add lime to the soil if necessary, aiming for a pH of 6.5-7.5.
Rapini has two sowing periods, plant seeds in early spring and again in autumn.
Sow undercover in February to April to harvest April to June and sow in July to October to harvest September to November. Don't sow in June and July as the plants will bolt.
In mild climates it can be autumn sown and over wintered. If planted too late in the spring, the warm weather hastens the opening of the flower buds. Once the plants flower, they will have passed their peak of quality.
Brassicas can be sown directly or planted in a seedbed or in modules under glass and then transferred. Sow thinly and successionally, to be harvested in 60 days.
Seeds should be planted in rows spaced 30 to 60cm (12-24in) apart, with an average of 12 to 15 plants per 30cm (12in) row. Seeds may also be broadcast over the bed surface, with the bed made as wide as can be readily worked. Keep the plants moist. Broccoli raab germinates easily and grows quickly. Plants should be thinned or transplanted to an interval of 15cm (6in). The seedlings resemble "butts" for lack of a better description! Round and fat with an indent on each outer side, then the "true" leaves appear.
Harvest plants before buds open, at a height of 25 to 38 cm (10 to 15 in). Cut the plants at the ground level, or where the stem tissue ceases to be tough and becomes succulent. If you harvest carefully, leaving the lower two leaves intact, they will often resprout several times. A second and third cutting may be obtained if conditions are ideal. The small yellow flowers are also edible.
Broccoli rabe is better cooked than raw. Remove the bottom portion of the stems up to where the leaves begin. Clean it as you would other greens, the stems are generally uniform in size (hence cook evenly) and need not be peeled. Cut stalks crosswise into 5cm (2in) pieces. Cook it like broccoli, but whether you braise, sauté, boil, or steam it, only cook it for eight to ten minutes. The florets and leaves are tenderer than the stems: if the stems are large separate them from the leaves and florets and cook them a little longer.
If you are growing your own plants, it is best to harvest right before your meal. To maintain crispness, refrigerate, unwashed, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag or wrap for three to five days. For longer storage, blanch and freeze.
Brassicas are affected by a wide range of pests and diseases, especially the fungal disease, club root. Remove any infected plants from the ground and destroy. Make sure the soil is adequately limed and well drained. Rotate your crops, planting brassicas, of any kinds, in the same ground more often than once every four years runs the risk of club root infestation and once you have it, the ground is useless for up to a decade. Don't take needless chances, even with catch crops of radishes.
The vegetable Raab descends from a wild herb, a relative of the turnip, which grew in China and the Mediterranean region. It is similar in shape to the Chinese Brassica oleracea cultivar called kai-lan, but is not closely related to it.
Broccoli grew wild on the shores of the Mediterranean sea and was a popular food of the ancient Romans. It can be traced to France in the 1500s, England in the mid-18th century and began to be cultivated commercially in the United States in the 1930s. Today it is still cultivated in the Italian provinces of Campania and Puglia, as well as in the US, but rarely available elsewhere.
In 1927, the D'Arrigo brothers found the wild plant growing all over California fields and remembered it from Italy. They became intrigued with the idea of marketing a new vegetable along the lines of their familiar broccoli and began a breeding program in the 1930s, and ultimately developed varieties with juicy stalks, many buds, and small leaves.
Because broccoli was developed in Italy, the plant was named by botanists as Brassica oleracea variety italica.
The word broccoli is from the Italian plural of broccolo, meaning 'little sprouts' in Italian referring to the flowering top of a cabbage. The large heading varieties of broccoli are sometimes named calabrese after the region of Calabria in Italy.
Broccoli is the leading member of the nutritious cruciferous family of vegetables, so named for their cross shaped blossoms.
Pronounced - Raab 'rob' and Rapini 'rah-PEE-nee', a few of the many names are raab, rapa, rapine, rappi, rappone, fall and spring raab, turnip broccoli, taitcat, Italian or Chinese broccoli, broccoli rape, broccoli de rabe, Italian turnip, and turnip broccoli.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2 grams Average Seed Count 800 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 350 seeds per gram Common Name Broccoli rabe Sessantina
Heritage (Italian 1930's)
Other Common Names Broccoli di Rape, Rappi, Friariell Other Language Names IT: Broccoli rabe Sessantina - 'Sessantina' means 60 days, but can be just 35 to 40 days. Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species oleracea var. italica Cultivar rapa ruvo Synonym Brassica rapa var. cymosa Hardiness Hardy Annual Spacing Space 30 to 60cm (12-24in) apart. Time to Sow Plant seeds in early spring and again in autumn. Harvest 60 days. Time to Harvest Harvest plants before buds open, at a height of 25 to 38cm (10 to 15 in).