Growing and Cooking Rapini

hand leafA staple of the early spring Italian American garden is rapini, also called rapa, cima di rapa, broccoletti, broccoli rabe, broccoli raab, even friarielli in and around Naples.  It is popular in Italy, especially in southern Italy where dozens of varieties are grown. Belonging to the family Brassicaceae, the mustard family, it’s closely related to turnip greens. Small broccoli-like heads appear on most varieties, although some are “senza testa”, without a head. rapini1

Rapini is often planted in the fall when it grows to several inches, then remains partially green but somewhat wilted looking over the winter. As soon as the weather warms slightly in very early spring, it begins to actively grow again and is ready to harvest in April and May. Tommasina planted hers last September after she pulled out the tomato and bean plants. Here are photos in the fall, then in early March, and then in April.


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Many varieties can also be planted in early spring and harvested in early summer. It doesn’t have to be grown in cool weather, but it can tolerate very cold weather so it might as well be grown when not much else can be. The Macchiones planted some about two months ago and it will be ready to pick soon.



Here is a photo of Mr. Ciccone’s rapini. He has two varieties planted in one very long row. Half the row is the kind that forms heads (yellow flowers) and the other half is what is often referred to as Italian rapa in which the leaves are the only thing eaten. In the video he is talking about the kind that makes the broccoli heads.




Tommasina had just harvested some when I stopped by for a visit in late April. To harvest, cut the broccoli heads and leaves at about 6cook rapini inches.  It will re-grow and provide several cuttings.

To prepare rapini, most varieties need to be boiled to remove some of the bitterness, then immersed in a cold water bath, drained, then squeezed of water. It’s usually sautéed in olive oil, garlic and salt. Like most vegetables, Italian Americans generally cook it until soft, not crunchy.

In the video below, Maria explains how to cook and prepare rapa, as she refers to it. And because I probably foolishly asked how long she cooks it, I love how she says “you cook it (boil it) until it’s cooked.” Plain and simple. No specific time.  Having grown up with the same dishes that have been prepared for generations, she grew up seeing it prepared, never using recipe books and timers. I generally have given up asking for cooking times and temperatures, because I get responses like this. “You cook it until it’s cooked.” A polite, but slightly exasperated way to say, “You just cook it until it’s done, for God’s sake”.

Rapini is an excellent source of vitamins C, folate, calcium, potassium and beta-carotene and also contains the antioxidant lutein. One plant produces hundreds of seeds, so you’ll often see just a few plants left to flower and go to seed.

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rapa seeds
Tommasina had some Italian rapa seeds given to her by Turuzzu  (Too ROOT su). This is a Calabrian nickname given to people with the name of Salvatore. I’ve heard about Turuzzu for several years now. He lives in a neighboring town. His is the garden Maria is referring to in the video. He seems to be legendary in the local Italian community and people talk about his seeds and garden with a bit of reverence and awe, sort of like some Italian gardening wizard. Hmm… I’ve got to meet this man. I’ll ask Tommasina for an introduction.

Stay tuned…We’re off to see Turuzzu…



Learn more about gardeners Giovanni CicconeMaria Macchione, and Tommasina Floro by clicking on their names here.







Dana Fields

I like when Mr.Ciccone says “as long as you don’t spray, you can eat the plant raw. When you spray, you ruin the plant, ruin your stomach.” So simple, so true. I only wish our mass food suppliers could understand.


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