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Sautéed Broccoli Rabe is a signature Italian-American green leafy vegetable that can be found on the menu of almost every red-sauce restaurant in the northeast US. It has bitter notes and a distinct flavor that pairs well with lots of different meat and pasta dishes. It’s also a nutritional powerhouse, dense with vitamins and minerals, making it a great accompaniment to any meal. Read on to learn more!
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe is, hands down, my all-time favorite vegetable! Quite honestly, it is the first vegetable that I remember eating as a child. So, to me, a simple dish of Sautéed Broccoli Rabe just feels like home and always brings back memories of mom.
Growing up in southern New Jersey and having an aunt and cousins that lived on a farm down in Vineland, we always had bushels-and-bushels-upon-bushels of just-picked broccoli rabe throughout the Spring and Summer seasons. My mom would wash the greens multiple times in sinkfuls of water to get all of the dirt out (let’s just say they didn’t come ‘pre-washed’), peel their fibrous stems, blanch potfuls until they were just al dente, then freeze them in labeled, zip-lock bags so that we could have broccoli rabe all-year-round.
My favorite way to make it? Super Simple–cut it into bite-sized pieces, blanch it for a couple of minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water, drain it, then sauté with lots of garlic and a little crushed red pepper in copious amounts of extra-virgin olive oil.
What Exactly is Broccoli Rabe?
Despite its name, this broccoli-resembling veggie has, in fact, nothing to do with broccoli and is actually in the turnip family. In fact, the broccoli-like florets are actually turnip buds that have not yet blossomed. Broccoli rabe arrived to the United States in the 1920s via southern Italian immigrants and some might say that it is an acquired taste given its bitter notes.
When Buying Broccoli Rabe . . .
Only buy bunches of broccoli rabe that are firm with compact, tightly-closed, dark green florets and leaves that are not wilted and have no signs of yellowing. As with broccoli, the florets turn yellow as the vegetable ages, so yellow flowers are a sure sign that the broccoli rabe is past its prime.
To make Sautéed Broccoli Rabe, we will be using the following ingredients:
- Broccoli Rabe: You will yield approximately 2 cups Sautéed Broccoli Rabe for every bunch (pound) of the raw product. Adjust your batch size accordingly!
- Garlic: Lots of it! Use as much as your heart’s content. It is an important flavor builder in this recipe and should not be omitted.
- Olive Oil: I suggest using the good extra-virgin olive oil here. With so few ingredients in this recipe, the flavor of the oil will shine through significantly in the finished dish.
- Crushed Red Pepper: Adds both flavor and a touch of heat. Feel free to leave this out if you prefer. It’s best to add this to the pan at the beginning along with the garlic and olive oil so that its flavors infuse into the oil.
- Salt and Black Pepper: Always to your taste and freshly ground black pepper is always preferred, if possible! Keep in mind that salt enhances the flavors of bitter greens exponentially, so you may need to use a bit more than usual.
A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.
Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!
Here are the main steps for how to make Sautéed Broccoli Rabe:
- Gather all ingredients. Rinse the broccoli rabe in cold water and drain. Prep the broccoli rabe by separating the thick, fibrous stems from the more tender leaves and florets. Cut them both into bite-sized pieces, while holding them in separate bowls.
- PRO-TIP: To save time when cooking, prep the broccoli rabe in advance and store it in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for up to one day.
- Boil the broccoli rabe in salted water until tender.
- PRO-TIP: The thick, fibrous stems will take longer to cook than the tender leaves and florets, so place them in the boiling water about 3 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetable.
- Once the broccoli rabe is tender, drain it from the boiling water and add it to a pan of sautéed garlic in olive oil. Cook it for a few minutes until your desired level of tenderness and long enough to allow any residual liquid in the rabe to evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. That’s it! Serve it hot or at room temperature.
- PRO-TIP: Broccoli rabe freezes really well and should be frozen after blanching and before sautéing. If you plan on freezing it, immediately immerse the blanched broccoli rabe in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain its beautiful green color. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then place it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- PRO-TIP: Similarly, the broccoli rabe can be blanched and held in the refrigerator for a couple of days before sautéing it. If you plan on doing this, immediately immerse the blanched broccoli rabe in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain its beautiful green color. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- PRO-TIP: Salt enhances the flavors of bitter greens exponentially, so you may need to use a bit more than usual.
Recipe Variations for Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
Like any good Italian recipe, there is more than one way to make Sautéed Broccoli Rabe. Here, I blanched (i.e., boiled) the raw broccoli rabe in salted water before sautéing it in olive oil. But, you can omit this step and add the chopped, raw veggie directly to a pan of sautéed garlic. This is best done with a small batch of the recipe (about 1 bunch). With this method, the residual water (from the rinsing in cold water step) creates enough steam to cook the veggie. Eventually, this water will evaporate, leaving the rabe to sauté in the oil. Cover the pan for a few minutes during this method to allow the broccoli rabe to steam and become tender. Then uncover it to allow the residual liquid to reduce.
Keep in mind that the less water that you use in the recipe, the more bitter the final dish will be. I happen to really love broccoli rabe’s signature bitterness, but many do not and prefer a more mild version of the veggie.
What to Serve With Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe is the type of side dish that complements almost any entrée, in my humble opinion!
In particular, it pairs well with any grilled protein and is especially perfect with Italian sausage and chicken cutlets.
Add Sautéed Broccoli Rabe to any number of hot sandwiches, such as chicken parm or a saucy meatball sub. Try it with Italian sausage and sharp provolone on a soft long roll for a flavor explosion! Or, fold it into your morning scrambled eggs for a nutritional and flavor boost.
Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
To make this Sautéed Broccoli Rabe recipe, you will need the following:
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Multiple bowls to hold prep
- Cutting board with non-slip mat underneath (I use shelf liner)
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Large Pot
- Garlic press
- Wooden or silicon spoons, tongs
- Colander, large mesh strainer or spider
- Dutch oven
- Large sauté or skillet
- Serving bowls and serving utensils
- Pepper mill
More Great Recipes to Try
If you’ve tried this recipe or any other recipe on the blog, please let me know how it went in the comments below — I love hearing from you!
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe (about 2 pounds)
- 2 Tbsp salt for water
- 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped or thinly-sliced garlic
- Pinch crushed red pepper
- To taste salt and black pepper
- Gather and prep all ingredients according to specifications above. Rinse the broccoli rabe in cold water and drain.
- Bring a large pot (5-6 quarts) of water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, prep the broccoli rabe: Trim at least ½” off the stems and discard. Next, cut off the stems and then further cut them into bite-sized pieces. Place the prepped stems in a bowl and set aside. Then, chop the remaining head of the broccoli rabe, containing the leaves and florets, into bite-sized pieces and place them in a separate bowl.
- Once the water comes to a boil, add salt, then the broccoli rabe stems, and cover. Let the stems cook for about 3 minutes, then add the remaining chopped broccoli rabe (florets and leaves). (The stems will take longer to cook than the rest of the vegetable.) Cover the pot and bring it back to a boil.
- After a couple of minutes, use tongs on a piece of the broccoli rabe stem to check its doneness. Once it is tender, immediately remove all of the rabe from the pot using a colander or spider and transfer it to a separate bowl, draining out as much liquid as possible. (See NOTE below about shocking the broccoli rabe in ice water.)
- While waiting for the water to boil, place the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook until the garlic begins to soften and lightly brown and turn fragrant.
- Add the drained, blanched broccoli rabe to the garlic and oil and stir to mix well. Cook for a few minutes until your desired level of tenderness and long enough to allow any residual liquid in the rabe to evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve hot or at room temperature. Buon Appetito!
- Broccoli rabe freezes really well and should be frozen after blanching and before sautéing. If you plan on freezing it, immediately immerse the blanched broccoli rabe in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain its beautiful green color. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then place it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Similarly, the broccoli rabe can be blanched and held in the refrigerator for a couple of days before sautéing it. If you plan on doing this, immediately immerse the blanched broccoli rabe in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain its beautiful green color. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Leftover Sautéed Broccoli Rabe can be held in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.