We’re pitting broccolini and broccoli rabe against one another in a head-to-head battle. Who will win this matchup? It is tough to tell, as these two veggies are well matched and quite similar in appearance. Both broccolini and broccoli rabe have been used in culinary abundance, scoring weighty wins in both the side dish, stir-fry, and pasta categories. Let’s see what these two vegetable heavy weights bring to the table.
Broccolini is a relative newcomer to the produce section. Japanese agricultural scientists developed broccolini in the mid-1990s by cross-breeding traditional broccoli with Chinese broccoli. Chinese broccoli, commonly referred to as gai lan or jie lan, is leafy with tender, waxy green stalks. Chinese broccoli is so leafy that there’s hardly a floret to be found. The flavor of Chinese broccoli is also more sweet than bitter, especially when compared to big, bulky, moderately-bitter broccoli. Broccolini has the best of both worlds. Broccolini is mildly bitter, slightly sweet, and exceptionally tender, yet crisp. As for broccolini’s appearance, you’ll notice small clusters of florets that sit atop long, thin stems with a light smattering of tiny leaves. One of the most appealing features of broccolini is its texture. The long stems have a pleasant crunch, unlike broccoli, which has a woody stem.
Team Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe is not actually a “true” broccoli, nor is it a broccoli outcropping, immature broccoli plant, or a “baby” broccoli. Even though broccolini and broccoli rabe look almost identical, they are not the same. So what exactly is broccoli rabe? Both broccolini and broccoli rabe are members of genus Brassica, a big leafy green family that covers everything from horseradish to kale. Broccoli rabe belongs to the Brassicaceae rapa branch which includes vegetables like turnips and mizuna. This rapa branch is responsible for some of the stark differences between broccolini, broccoli rabe, and our standard-issue broccoli.
Broccoli rabe is leafier, thinner, and less floral than broccoli. The stems are long and tender and bush out in leafy clusters with small flowering heads, like broccolini. But, where broccolini is sweet and mild, broccoli rabe is bold and bitter. The flavor is almost like that of mustard greens mixed with horseradish.
When and How to Cook with Broccolini and Broccoli Rabe
The magic that is broccolini and broccoli rabe is their culinary versatility. These two veggies are quick-cooking and tender-crisp. Broccolini and broccoli rabe can both be grilled, sauteed, steamed, roasted, simmered, and stir-fried. Their biggest bout comes in the arena of flavor.
What Pairs Best with Broccoli Rabe?
Broccoli rabe comes in handy when you want to balance either sweet flavors or rich ingredients. Unctuous ingredients like roast pork, duck, steaks, cream, or butter can easily be balanced with a serving of bitter broccoli rabe. Sweeter sauces like reduced balsamic, BBQ, teriyaki, and honey glazes are also balanced by broccoli rabe’s bitterness. When experimenting with broccoli rabe in place of broccoli, look for dishes with sweet and/or rich attributes. Recipes such as Sesame Chicken, Teriyaki Steak, or Spaghetti Carbonara would work well with broccoli rabe. For a more traditional broccoli rabe approach, we recommend recipes such as Roast Pork Tenderloin with Broccoli Rabe or Seared Steak with Farro and Garlicky Broccoli Rabe.
What Pairs Best with Broccolini?
Picky eaters rejoice! Broccolini’s sweet flavor comes in handy when crafting recipes that need a veggie boost (especially for folks who are not the biggest fans of vegetables). Like broccoli, broccolini can be paired with recipes that are either lacking in the texture department. Because broccolini is so neutral, it can easily be inserted into most recipes. Classic broccoli recipes like Beef and Broccoli and Broccoli Mac and Cheese are great examples of easy broccolini substitutions.