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Wow! This Broccoli Rabe is...Bitter

I know that broccoli rabe has a bitter reputation but the past couple times I've made it- it really has been inedible. Is it the white wine?
Basically my preparation is blanching for two minutes in salted water, then sauteing some onions in evoo, fresh tomato, garlic, then adding white wine and letting that cook down for a couple minutes, then adding my broccoli rabe and red chili flakes, sauteing everything together for two minutes before serving. Thoughts? Suggestions? We're running out of vegetable sides, so any ideas would be much appreciated. Thanks!!

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  1. My thoughts....

    Is there any chance you are burning the garlic over high heat when you are reducing the liquid? Try tasting the broccoli rabe after blanching. If it's not too bitter then, it shouldn't be bitter after the rest of your recipe and the bitterness must stem from one of your other ingredients.

    I usually use chicken stock myself.....friends I know like to use a squeeze or two of lemon.

    1. i always felt that was about rabe so you are not alone.

      do you ever do sauteed baby spinach? some olive oil in a pan and in our case, a clove of minced garlic and some lemon pepper. after they start to heat, add the spinach in batches until it just wilts.

      we also enjoy asparagus sauteed or grilled. easy and pretty quick too.

      1. For me, when cooking rabe, Less Is More. Over medium heat I sauté a sliced Spanish onion and a few chopped garlic cloves till slightly brown, almost caramelized, adding some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I slice the stems of the rabe crosswise (2" pieces) and throw them into the pan to fry slightly before I throw in the chopped leaves. Cook till stems and leaves are tender. That's it. We love it as a side dish or incorporated into cooked and drained pasta, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water and freshly grated Romano.

        As you say, rabe by nature is a bitter green. That's why I don't like to add any acidic ingredients. The trick is, I think, to make sure the greens are cooked through totally but still have their sprightly color. Also... I do not blanch the rabe before sautéing it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gio

          I agree, Gio.

          To elaborate on your suggestions, add cooked and chopped rabe to gnocchi with a creamy sauce right before serving; the bitterness cuts and compliments the rich pasta perfectly.


        2. It *is* bitter and not everyone enjoys it. I adore it, but my husband hates it. He, by contrast, doesn't think Brussels sprouts have a bitter aftertaste at all, but I can't even put them in my mouth, even if I practically boil them in bacon fat. You may just be highly sensitive to the bitter compounds in some vegetables and maybe lack receptors for the other flavor components that would offset the bitterness in those veggies. That's my theory for why I hate Brussels sprouts, anyway.

          Just in case you think you can learn to like broccoli rabe, here's what I do: Blanch for 2-3 minutes in liberally salted water. Saute garlic in evoo, then add about 1/2 cup of basmati rice, then the rabe, then some sweet vermouth and liquid (water or chicken broth) to cook the rice, lid on for about 15 minutes. The rice and vermouth help to mellow the rabe. Like you, I also sometimes add chili flakes. Adding raisins is also really nice.

          If you still don't like it, it's no big deal. There are lots of veggies out there, so it is perfectly okay not to eat a few of them.

          1. I believe this might have something to do with your taste buds. I have the same issue -- my DH and son adore broccoli rabe, but to me it tastes painfully bitter. I read somewhere about how this is determined by your taste buds and how some people just taste bitter things in a more extreme way. I have to avoid it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: roxlet

              While for some reason I like the idea of having unique taste buds that are so sensitive, foods for mere mortals are too intense for me, I think it might be my preparation because I've had the vegetable out at restaurants and enjoyed it.
              It's not the garlic being burnt because I know that smell very well, unfortunately...my thought is the white wine presents an acidity that is tough to swallow with the bitterness of the rabe. I'll have to try making it without the w.w. And throwing in some raisins....

              1. re: coco99

                What, you don't want to be special like everyone else? ;)

                1. re: coco99

                  I think Broccoli Rabe is an acquired taste. I didn't care for it at first, but now it is just about my favorite vegetable. I started out always blanching it first, but now I just cut it into chiffonade and toss it in a saute pan with lots of fruity olive oil. I don't put the garlic in until it's about halfway done. I've never used white wine in cooking rabe, but I often finish it with a little sprinkle of balsamic vinegar for a little "agro-dolce."

              2. I feel the same way about arugula. Many, many times the pepper is way too much for me, but if it's moderate, I really enjoy it.
                I would offer to blanch your rabe longer to really draw out the bitter. I use a method that works well for me.
                I place the chopped rabe in an OXO salad spinner. Pour over boiling water and cover. Let sit for 5-6 minutes. Drain, spin and store until you're ready to prep it.
                Never overcooks, and I have done this prep a day or two in advance even.
                Also, I use chicken stock to braise it.
                You can also throw in some golden raisins to contrast flavor with the bitter.

                1. My wife had the exact same reaction the first time I made it. What I did that made a big difference was to throw in some lemon zest at the end of the cooking - that really seemed to cut the bitterness. That's now one of our favorite way to have greens - sauteed with oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon zest at the end. Make sure not to burn the garlic, as that'll go bitter quickly. I usually simmer the garlic slices in oil for 5 minutes, then take them out before starting on the rabe.

                  1. I find broccoli rabe generally unpalatable too - I try to like it, but it just hurts me every time I eat it. I got a side of it with my lunch the other day and it was typically bitter, but my lunch also happened to come with some roasted roma tomatoes, and by mixing the two I found that I could eat the broccoli rabe. I still wouldn't call it a favorite though. To the poster that loves broccoli rabe but hates Brussels sprouts - you're just crazy. :-)

                    1. I like everything bitter and have enjoyed rapini for years, BUT recently have had several times and unpleasantly bitter. Perhaps it is me.....but could something else be going on?

                      1. I might try sauteeing without blanching, and pulling it the moment it is tender. Also, slices of Italian sausage and halved grapes pair incredibly well with rabe: the combination of the meatiness and sweetness brilliantly play off the bitterness.

                        1. I make Broccoli Rabe a lot, it's my favorite. I have experimented a bit, but my Grandmothers recipe is my favorite.

                          In a pan, I heat olive oil with some garlic and red pepper. Let that cook for a couple of minutes making sure the garlic doesn't burn. I then add the broccoli rabe to the pan with some chicken stock. Place a lid on the pan and cook for a about 5 min. Add salt to taste and you should be good to go.

                          I have made it with roasted garlic and liked that as well.

                          1. Lots of great cooking suggestions and thoughts here; I won't bother to add mine as it's very close to what many have suggested already and pretty much what you do, without the tomato. What I will say is that broccoli rabe is bitter and it is not for everyone's palate. Don't beat yourself up if it's not something for you, and don't try too hard to make it into something it's not (less bitter.) Broccoli rabe wins every time.

                            Mrbushy can't stand it's bitter tang, and no matter what I do to it, he just won't eat it. More for me...

                            1. The first time I tried gai lan (same family) at dim sum I coudln't believe that people ordered it on purpose, it was so bitter, and I'm not normally sensitive to bitterness at all. I tried it a second time, and it barely had any of that bitterness at all- just enough to add a little bite, and I decided I liked it and have had it since and I'm so glad I did. Maybe you've gotten more-bitter Rabe the last couple of times, just the luck of the draw- that can happen too.

                              1. Some of it can have to do with the time of year and the specific broccoli rabe. I sometimes lop off a couple inches off the stems, especially if they look tough.

                                I know you're blanching the greens in salted water, but how much salt and how much water are you using? For leafy greens, I usually follow the advice of using VERY salty water for blanching or parboiling them. You want a whole lot of water (I will use a stockpot, and still boil the greens in batches), and have it at a rapid boil. Make sure it comes back up to a full boil before you do any other batches.

                                I also like to cook in the water a little longer, and then cook it for less time in the pan (but at a pretty high heat).

                                I also personally find that I don't like the taste of onion with kale or broccoli rabe - to me, it often brings out the bitter taste a little more. Since I like cooking the greens with a fair amount of heat, I will often "bless" the pan with some slices of garlic and then remove them before adding the greens.

                                If you're looking for other vegetable sides that are similar, you could try sprouting broccoli or broccolini.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: will47

                                  Thanks to all- I will try blessing the pan soon (tonight perhaps...?) omitting the onions and adding more salt, fingers crossed....

                                  1. re: coco99

                                    We usually make a take-off on Lidia Bastianich's pasta sauce with broc rabe. It's just garlic and onions sauteed with the broc rabe. Sweet or hot or both Italian sausages are sauteed and added along with some chicken broth. The whole thing is sauteed until the broc rabe is cooked. Serve this over oriechietti with lots of parmesan. Pasta with some creases or crevices or curls is best so sauce can get inside it.

                                2. While I do like broccoli raab, I've never enjoyed it as a side on it's own. I much prefer it tossed with sliced sausage, or chicken, or shrimp, garlic, fresh tomatoes, cheese sometimes, & served over pasta. This way it's inherent bitterness is diluted & actually becomes a terrific flavor point to the rest of the ingredients.

                                  1. This depends ...

                                    "cima di rapa" denotes the tender, flowering yellow blossoms.
                                    This is what you want to seek out (not fat-ass stems & huge leaves - bulk)
                                    These are available during the shoulder seasons in the Mid-Atlantic.
                                    I agree w/ the suggestion to sautee w/ olive oil & garlic.
                                    Toss over pasta or fold into a frittata.

                                    5 Replies
                                      1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

                                        Actually, if you grow your own like I do (& particularly if you buy your seeds from "Seeds of Italy", which offers a full page of different imported rabe varieties), those "fat-ass stems & huge leaves" can be the shining stars of the plant.

                                        What you're describing, "The Descended", is just something that obviously must pertain to the common variety found in supermarkets. And even that isn't true. I've found the supermarket rabe that I buy when my own homegrown isn't available can be just as lovely when prepared correctly (thick stems peeled). And the stems & leaves have absolutely zero bearing on the OP's question re: bitterness. I LOVE the leaves, & find them the sweetest part of the plant. In fact, there are some varieties that have been bred to have large leaves for this sole reason. I also take issue with your suggestion that folks buy rabe that is flowering. Rabe that is flowering is clearly past its prime. You can still enjoy it, but it's not the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

                                        As I said before, I grow several different varieties of imported rabe every year. I know what I'm talking about.

                                        1. re: Breezychow

                                          Interesting, is there much of a taste difference between the different varieties of rabe?

                                          1. re: LongIslandChef

                                            Yes, although I'm ashamed to say I didn't keep notes, which I do plan on doing this coming growing season.

                                            Some were more bitter than others, plus some produced huge leaves & tiny little sprouting heads, while others were vice versa. I have to say that anyone interested in this vegetable who has a garden should definitely visit "Seeds of Italy" & think about ordering seeds. Customer service is excellent, & you get a HUGE amount of seed per packet versus all other seed companies.

                                          2. re: Breezychow

                                            I have grown several cultivars over the years and as with all produce taken directly from the garden enjoyed the benefits of my efforts.

                                            As to your other points, I'll defer to the Italians ... http://www.anseme.com/prodotti/cima_r...