If you’ve never tried this intensely flavored vegetable, sometimes labeled “bitter broccoli,” you’re in for a treat! Broccoli rabe (or brocoletti di rape, as it’s called in Italy) was once scarce in the United States. But it’s now available year-round in most well-stocked supermarkets.
In addition to being more flavorful than regular broccoli, Italian broccoli needs little trimming before being cooked. When seared in hot olive oil, laced with lots of garlic and some crushed red pepper flakes, and then simmered in a rich chicken (or vegetable) broth, there’s hardly a more flavorful vegetable around. Whether served alone as a side dish, or over piping-hot rigatoni noodles as a main dish, broccoli rabe provides a nutritious, fiber-filled addition to your menu (that’s also quick and easy to prepare)!
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If including pasta, bring an 8-quart pot of water to a boil. If not using pasta, bring a small saucepan of water to a rolling boil and drop the whole cloves of garlic into the pot. Boil the garlic, uncovered, for 2 full minutes. Remove the garlic, using a slotted utensil, and cut each parboiled clove in half, lengthwise. Set the garlic aside and, if making pasta, reduce the heat under the pot of water so it simmers until you’re ready to cook the rigatoni. Thoroughly rinse the broccoli and pat dry. Do not remove the leaves and only trim off the very bottom of the stalks; everything else is to be cooked and eaten. Cut the stalks and leaves into 2 to 3-inch lengths.
Heat a 12-inch, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and, when hot, add the parboiled garlic. Stir the garlic frequently, in the hot oil, until it turns golden brown, being careful not to let it burn. Use a slotted utensil to remove the garlic to a bowl. Increase the heat to high and, all at once, add the broccoli rabe and crushed red pepper flakes to the pan. Use tongs to turn the vegetable, helping it to wilt in the hot oil, then scatter on the browned garlic, the raw garlic, 2 cups of stock and some salt. Cover the pan and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the broccoli until tender but still textural, about 8 to 10 minutes (the leaves will be nice and wilted, the stalks will be tender, but will retain a texture that’s slightly “al dente”). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Return pot of water back to a rapid boil, over high heat. Just after searing the broccoli rabe in hot oil, add salt to the pot of water and then add the rigatoni. (This is when you’d add the garlic, stock, etc., to the broccoli.) Cook the pasta until “al dente,” according to the package directions, checking pasta frequently to avoid overcooking. Drain the pasta, allowing some of the cooking water to adhere to the tubes. The pasta and broccoli should be done at about the same time, if not, let the broccoli sit, covered, on the hot, turned off burner.
Put individual portions of the broccoli and broth into warmed bowls (either alone) or ladle it over hot cooked pasta. (If using pasta, I like to coat the cooked tubes in a combination of melted butter and some additional hot stock.) Lightly sprinkle with salt and serve immediately, passing grated or shaved Pecorino Romano or Parmesan at the table, along with a peppermill.