Recipe Spotlight

To Tame Bitter Broccoli Rabe, Just Add Honey

Honey adds a little complexity and maxes out the flavor.

Published May 3, 2022.

As far as vegetables go, broccoli rabe isn’t always at the top of everyone’s list of favorites. Although this leafy green crucifera does have small florets that somewhat resemble broccoli, it is actually more closely related to the turnip. Plus, it’s far more bitter-tasting than broccoli, which can further thin its fan base.

However, this acerbic edge makes it the perfect foil for cheesy, meaty dishes, cutting through the richness and providing welcome contrast. And when tamed slightly (but not erased!) this slight bitterness can make the dish. But it needs a little help getting there.

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There are a few common ways to mellow broccoli rabe’s harshness. A brief blanch and shock before sautéing will do the trick, but it’s a fussy method that also serves to wash away the herby, vegetal flavors we like. Broiled Broccoli Rabe, a recipe developed by Steve Dunn, uses fewer dishes than the blanch-shock-sauté method and imparts extra flavor by way of browning (thanks, Maillard). 

But there’s another way to tame broccoli rabe’s bitterness without eliminating it entirely, and the solution is hiding in your pantry. The answer? Honey.

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Developed as a topping for plant-based sausage burgers in our Cooking with Plant-Based Meat cookbook, honey (or agave, if you're following a vegan diet) adds the perfect amount of sweetness to temper broccoli rabe's bite. Roasted red peppers add an extra layer of sweetness and heft to the sauté. We use a similar method in our Italian Pork Burgers with Broccoli Rabe. Here, the bitterness of the broccoli rabe perfectly complements the richly spiced pork and tangy Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise.

Whatever method you choose, bring broccoli rabe into your regular meal rotation. Whether you’re adding it to sandwiches or gratins, serving it alongside creamy polenta, or simply enjoying it as a tasty side, this vegetable is worth a second look.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Roasted Red Peppers

Serves 4

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced thin
  • 8 ounces broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2‑inch pieces
  • ¼ cup jarred roasted red peppers
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup

  1. Heat oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the garlic is golden brown and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. 
  2. Add broccoli rabe, peppers, salt, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally until broccoli rabe is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. 
  3. Off heat, stir in honey. Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm until ready to serve. 

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