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"Stringing" broccoli rabe

When I prepare broccoli rabe, I string every stalk that's not really, really thin. Recognizing that I can be a bit compulsive, I wonder if this is necessary. I've never not done it, so I don't know how it'd come out. I don't blanch it before the saute. Has anyone prepared it both ways?

I don't mind stringing; it's a nice mindless task, like shelling peas. But when I'm in a hurry it would be nice to be able to skip it, if the results are just as good.

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  1. I never do it. If you cook it lightly you will get a bit more crunch but I think that is a good thing.
    And I never blanch because l love the bitterness.

    1. I just throw any stalks that are too woody into the compost.

      Usually there aren't any.

      Never blanch. Why waste flavor and nutrition?

      1. huh, i've never stringed. and never experienced particular stringiness or overly fibrous-ness (sorry, making up words here).

        my big question is to blanch or not to blanch--marcella hazan has a recipe that calls for boiling for 8 minutes prior to sauteeing. the end product is not bitter whatsoever, and tasted soft, comforting and delicious. but i much prefer the bite of barely cooked greens.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rose water

          I prefer not blanching, myself, though sometimes I'll admit that the flavor can be too intense. I'm guessing that may have something to do with how fresh it is, bit maybe I'm overthinking it a bit. Anyway- blanching will definitely cut down on the bitterness if you like to play it safe. I think it just comes down to how your family likes it.

          Per the original post- I've seen Lidia Bastianich string the stalks and discard the leaves, which does seem to make for an elegant presentation but I have never done so myself (and I've been eating the stuff for over 25 years). I like the leaves, doggone it!. I trim them the way that Robert Lauritson suggests above and just discard the really heavy parts of the stems.

        2. Stringing? Never heard of anyone calling for that. I usually cut the lengths into 2-inch lengths and maybe that cuts down on long fibers.

          To blanch or not to blanch: varies. Generally blanch for one minute and add to pizza/pasta etc. or char on grill. I like the texture better after the blanching and the short blanch time doesn't kill the bitterness which I like.

          1. I don't string stalks but I taste the broccoli rabe raw to see how bitter it is. This varies a fair amount. If it's very bitter, I'll blanch it briefly before cooking. If not, I cook it without blanching.

            1. I don't blanch mine. I make use of the water that remains on them after giving them a quick rinse. That's enough water to get some steam working as you saute, and tenderize them. I'm guessing you 'string' yours because you don't like that really fibrous exterior on the stalks?
              I usually don't string mine and the results are fine.

              Broccoli rabe tips:

              (1) Always select bunches that are deep green in color and with no yellowing. Any yellowing on the leaves or the florets indicates the rabe are old. (The taste will be the same, but it's best to cook fresh produce for maximum nutritional benefits).

              (2) Avoid bunches with a lot of leaves. Look for those with an abundance of florets, the best part of the rabe. If you have to go hunting for florets under a massive amount of leaves, look for another bunch where the florets are clearly visible. This way, you'll have less to discard and get more for your $.

              (3) The thicker the stalks, the better. It's been my experience that the thicker stalks are always more tender and require less, if any, 'stringing'. Turn the bunch upside down, and look at the bottom of the stalks. Note their diameter. Yes, the thicker the better. The best rabe are those that are 3/8 to a 1/2 inch in diameter and have what looks like "split ends". What I mean by split ends is that the ends of their stalks "crack or split" and tend to curl up due sometimes to oversaturation. You want that! Those rabe will be far more tender than the thinner ones you usually get when rabe is 'out of season'.

              For us on the east coast, the best rabe are those sold during the autumn months. During that time the bunches will weigh approximately a pound and a half each, sometimes even more, because this is when they are most plentiful and need to be sold. When they are not in season, the bunches are typically a pound each on average.

              As far as preparation, I tend to prefer my rabe "overcooked". When prepared this way, they are less stringy, almost grayish-green in color, sometimes more bitter, and IMO, less peppery. The undercooked rabe are greener, usually more fibrous, usually more peppery, and have a crunchier consistency. Your choice in preparation is a matter of taste. Both are good.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Cheese Boy

                Wow! Hardly anyone "strings" as a matter of course. My favorite use for brocolli rabe is to make a rabe sandwich; garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil for the saute, then I add a bit of chicken stock, cover and steam a little. Often I'll have some hot sausage that I'll crumble, fry up and add to the finished greens. I've found that if it's stringy in the least, a bite of the sandwich will often haul out a long string of greens. (I don't chop it up, either!)
                Thanks for all the replies. I know now that I needn't string *every time*.

              2. The rabe I buy loose by the pound at the farmers market gets woody/stringy as the stalks get longer and thicker.

                If a knife goes through easily, I just cook it. If there's much resistance, I strip off the leaves and toss that part of the stem.

                We might be talking about a couple of different plants here. I'm talking about real cime di rapa. Sometimes I see other things labeled broccoli rabe.

                1. I don't string - I just trim off the bottom inch or whatever looks right. As far as bitterness goes, my sense is that it's more a function of season, rather than stem size. Rabe always seems to get worse as the spring warms up. I usually lay off it during the summer, and start buying it again well into the fall. Not scientific, just based on a couple decades of intense rabe enjoyment.

                  I never used to blanch, but converted some years ago - I think it does reduce bitterness somewhat, plus my taste has grown to prefer softer rabe. Though I sometimes blanch by tossing the rabe in with the boiling pasta for the last couple of minutes, my preferred method is to microwave the washed rabe for a few minutes, in a large, covered bowl. It seems to leave the rabe greener. (Maybe that's my imagination.)

                  ps Hi Pat!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Helen F

                    Hey, Helllie. I like the idea of tossing it in with the pasta, will try the microwave thing too. The more bitter, the better, for me, though.

                  2. I never pare. Never even occurred to me. I made a staple for dinner last night (from Julia's Master Chef series with Lydia - or is it "Lidia"?-Bastianich). Sautee garlic (I also use onions), sausage and then add the broc rabe. Sautee for a while and then add some chicken stock and some hot pepper flakes. Serve with pasta and parm cheese.

                    Ms. Bastianich uses orichiette (sp) - little ears. I use whatever I have but long thin pasta is much less desirable. Penne is fine.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: oakjoan

                      This is what I do too, works great. I never string rabe, and I am too lazy to blanch anything that will get further cooking.