Broccoli raab, also known as broccoli rabe or rapini, is an easy-to-grow and enjoyable addition to any vegetable garden. More closely related to the turnip than the broccoli, this plant was most likely cultivated from a wild herb originating in the Mediterranean and China. Broccoli raab has two harvest seasons, one in early spring and one in late fall, and can overwinter in milder climates. With its abundant nutrition and complex flavor, broccoli raab is a must-have cool weather crop.
Super Rapini, also known as Cima Di Rappa, is an Italian heirloom variety of broccoli raab with deep green leaves and stalks topped with buds that are similar in appearance to broccoli. This veggie, like most other varieties of broccoli raab, prefers slightly cooler temperatures and will develop a more robust flavor if it’s exposed to cold weather. Crops may be continuously sown throughout the growing season, but the best yields will generally come from those that are planted in the early spring or late summer.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: Start seeds 1″ apart, thin to 4–6″.
Space Between Rows: 18–14″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–85°F. Optimal 60–65°F.
Days for Germination: 7–14
Sow Indoors: 3 to 4 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost or as soon as soil can be worked. Also, sow in late summer for fall harvest, or early fall for overwintering in warmer climates.
Grows best in cool weather, as hot temperatures will cause it to bolt. While plants ideally prefer a temperature range of 40-75°F, they can withstand temperatures as low as 25°F. Like most vegetables in the brassica family, they do not do extremely well in tropical or humid environments.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade but will slow in maturity.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent or LED lamps. Needs at least 6 hours light per day.
Soil: Prefers a nutrient rich, well-drained soil. Broccoli raab will grow best in slightly acidic to neutral soil i.e. between 6.0 and 7.5.
Soilless: Seeds will germinate in most soilless media but prefer those that include perlite and/or vermiculite as they allow for proper drainage.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems but will do especially well in NFT and grow raft systems.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Aim for watering 1–2 times per week. In hot weather, increase watering to avoid wilting.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Broccoli raab needs lots of nitrogen and boron, so add compost or compost tea for a nutrient-boost. If transplanting, incorporate manure or compost into the top several inches of soil where many of the feeder roots are located.
Foliar: Try an organic nutrient spray such as liquid seaweed or fish emulsion if you are experiencing stunted growth in your plants.
Pruning: Trim damaged or diseased leaves throughout the growing period to promote new growth and keep your plants healthy.
Mulching: Use organic mulch such as compost or wood chips to maintain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Deficiency(s): A boron deficiency will cause plants to develop hollow stems. Add compost or spray with compost tea to amend.
Rotation: A 1- to 3-year rotation away from all members of the brassica family is recommended. At the end of the growing season, remove the entire plant, including the root system.
Companions: Grows well with members of the nightshade family, as well as cucumber, beet, carrot, and spinach. Avoid snap and pole beans.
Harvest: Plan to harvest in late spring or early fall in most climates, or early spring if overwintering. For greens, harvest leaves and stems once plants reach 7–8″ in height by cutting to the ground before signs of flower stalk formation. Leave a few stalks on your plant and water/fertilize if you are hoping to encourage a second growth. For florets, cut after shoots form but before buds open.
Storage: Can be refrigerated for up to a week in a plastic bag. Do not wash until you are ready to use.
Fun Fact: Although this veggie shares part of its name with the broccoli plant, it’s actually more closely related to other vegetables, such as turnips, which would account for the similarity in appearance of broccoli raab’s foliage.
Preserve: Can be blanched and frozen for later consumption. To freeze, boil leaves and stalks for 3 minutes before removing from heat and placing in a cold bath. Place leaves in freezer bags and store. Leaves and stalks will keep for up to a year when frozen.
Prepare: Broccoli raab has a sharp, nutty, slightly bitter flavor, and blanching can tone this down. Sauté in olive oil with garlic and other spices of your choice for a tantalizing side dish.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) K, C, A, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, potassium, and riboflavin. It’s also rich in antioxidants.
Medicinal: Broccoli raab is currently being investigated for its anti-cancer properties. It contains phytochemicals proven to prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Its high vitamin K content implies bone strengthening properties. It also contains sulfur and other compounds that are known to aid in detoxification of the liver.
This dish of Orrechiette and Rapini is the very essence of Italian cuisine with loads of garlic, spices, and of course, rapini.