Rapini, also known as rabe, is a variety of turnip originating from the Mediterranean. The vegetable’s deep green leaves look similar to broccolini although its florets are smaller, and it produces edible yellow flowers.

What does rapini taste like?

Cooked rapini has a pungent, bitter flavor with a subtle nutty undertone. People describe this vegetable as a cross between mustard greens and broccoli. The stem of a broccoli rabe contains a lot of the bitterness, while the buds and leaves are milder.

Although rapini and broccolini are visually similar, they have unique flavor profiles. You’ll find broccoli has a more earthy flavor while rapi has a sharper bite to it.

Comparing the bitterness of rapini to other common foods
Rapini is high on the bitterness scale.

People who don’t enjoy strong-flavored food and most kids will struggle to eat rapini. It’s too punchy. In saying that, the vegetable is hugely popular in Italy. If they think it’s okay, that’s a green light because Italians know their food.

Factors that affect rapini’s bitterness

When people describe their experience eating rapini, they often differ. That’s because several factors impact its bitterness intensity.

1. Cooking method

If you’ve ever had rapini cooked the wrong way, you’ve likely vowed never to eat it again. The secret to great-tasting rapini is to blanch it before frying. This is a handy step if you don’t enjoy extremely bitter food.

Combine a touch of garlic and chili for a simple, enticing, and nutritious dish. I learned this technique when I spent a month in the tiny town on Messignadi, Calabria several years ago.

2. When the rapi is picked

Like many cruciferous vegetables, as rapi matures in the garden it develops a stronger flavor. Picking it at a young age is the best option if you prefer milder food.

The weather also has an impact on the plant’s flavor. Pick rapini on a cold, frosty morning and you’ll find its milder-tasting.   

3 Other ingredients

A rapi dish can easily be balanced out by adding a sweet flavor like honey. Hoisin sauce is also a good option for incorporating sweet and salty tastes.

Find out more about rabe – watch the video

Rapini Vs Rabe Vs Broccolini

Let’s start with rapini and rabe: they’re both the same. Check out the table below to see how broccolini and rapini differ.

 Rapini/RabeBroccolini
AppearanceSimilar to broccolini with small yellow flowers, larger leaves and smaller florets.Dark green, similar to broccoli but with longer, thinner stalks and smaller florets.
TastePungent and bitter - the flavor reduces once cooked.Similar to broccoli. Earthy, mild flavor.
FamilyTurnipCruciferous
How to eatBest to blanch then sautee.Best cooked: blanched, sauteed, roasted, steamed.
Rapini and Broccolini on chopping boards
Broccolini and rapini visual comparison.

When is rapini in season?​

Rapini is a year-round vegetable although its peak season runs from the end of fall through to early spring. Rapini thrives when grown in sunny conditions although it is quite hardy and will tolerate partial shade.

Recommended reading: What do fiddleheads taste like?

How to prepare rapini

Rapini is an efficient vegetable with very little thrown away during preparation. The stem, leaves, and flowers are all perfectly edible. Cut off the stalks close to the end and discard.

You’ll find the leaves have a more pronounced bitter flavor while the stem and florets have a more delicate taste. Combining them all makes for a fantastic side dish.

How to cook rapini

How to cook rapini

  • Blanching for 1 minute will take the harsh taste away but it will still be quite strong.
  • Blanching for 2-5 minutes will significantly reduce the bitter flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of rapini
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic (diced finely)
  • 2 chopped pepperoncini or your favorite chili
  • Salt flakes to season
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Cut off any large stalks and discard. Place the rapini in a sink filled with water to wash off any dirt and sprays.
  2. Add 2″ of water and rapini to a large pot, then bring to boil. The water doesn’t need to cover the rapini.
  3. Boil for 3-5 minutes then strain out water.
  4. Add oil to a skillet on medium-high heat then add garlic, cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add pepperoncini and rapini and cook for 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.
  6. Season with salt flakes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

How to pronounce rapini

Related reading:
What are the substitutes for mustard greens?
What are some good gai lan substitutes?

Health benefits

Rapini is a nutrition-packed vegetable, rich in iron, calcium, and potassium. It is also rich in vitamins A, C, and K. The nutritional goodness from rapini can help boost the immune system, improve bone density, and regulate blood pressure.

Final Words

Rapini is a dark green, leafy vegetable that is similar in appearance to broccolini but a lot more bitter in flavor. This bitter taste is great for balancing dishes. If you have a heavy meat dish, rapini will provide some fresh relief.

Rapini is usually served as a side dish. It could also be added to orecchiette, artichokes and sausage to make Orecchiette Con Salsiccia e Rapini, a much-loved Italian dish. For something simpler, add the cooked rapini to a piece of toast and melt some pecorino or cotija on top.