Food In Fiction: Wait, It’s Not Broccoli?

Rarely am I stumped or surprised when I’m reading and a food item comes up during a meal scene. But that happened the other day. I was reading the second book in the Lomax and Biggs series by Marshall Karp, when lo and behold, our hero is having dinner with his girlfriend and she serves him an authentic Italian meal befitting her heritage (nice Jewish girl who married a nice Italian man with a scary Italian mother) – oh, don’t worry, our hero and his girlfriend are both widowed now, so it is not an illicit dinner.   On the menu is broccoli rabe, and I was stumped. I had no idea what it was or how it was prepared.  So I did a little research and the first thing I find out is it is NOT broccoli, not even related, more like mustard greens:

The leaves, stems, and flower heads are cooked (broil, stir-fry, braise, saute, or steam) and eaten just like greens and have a flavor similar to broccoli but much more pungent. It is quite tasty with a nutty flavor and has a slightly bitter taste. Some say it is aggressively pungent and bitter. In spite of its uniqueness, broccoli raab/rabe is considered an acquired taste – but once acquired, it’s addictive! Preparing it is very easy.

I’m intrigued enough to go looking for some.  Here are two recipes I’m going to give a try:

Broccoli Rabe and Hot Italian Sausage Pasta

  • 16 ounce  farfalle (bow tie) pasta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the Italian sausage until crumbly and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and continue cooking until the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes more. Pour off the excess grease, then pour in the chicken broth and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the broccoli rabe, and cover. Cook until the broccoli rabe is tender, about 4 minutes.

When the broccoli rabe is done, stir in the butter, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper until the meat sauce has thickened. Toss with the farfalle and serve.  Serves 6-8 generously.

Lemon and Garlic Broccoli Rabe

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned, stems trimmed, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Bring 1-inch of water to a boil in a deep skillet. Add rabe, season with salt, and cover pan. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Drain well.

Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in oil over moderate heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add rabe, coat and cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.

Squeeze the juice of lemon over the pan and sprinkle in zest. Toss rabe and serve immediately.  Serves 4 – 6