Now that we're moving into the first weeks of spring, it's
! The term
generally refers to the flowering shoots of Brassica family plants, also commonly called "broccoli rabe". This family includes broccoli, a plant where we're used to eating the flowers, but all Brassicas send up flowering shoots in early spring: kale, arugula, turnips, etc. - and each of them has their own flavor. Generally they're sold at the farmers market in bunches which include the leaves, buds and stems. All of these parts are edible, and you can generally cook them all together, perhaps just trimming the ends of the stems.
Rapini are delicious in many preparations: simply sauteed with olive oil and garlic, as a pizza topping, or (as below) tossed with pasta.
Orecchiette Pasta with Rapini, Garbanzo Beans and Spicy Sausage
¾ pound spicy bulk sausage, crumbled (optional)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound rapini, kale rabe or broccoli rabe, rinsed, trimmed, and cut into 3-inch pieces
12 ounces orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, stirring, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a paper towel lined plate; let drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. Add rapini and cook 1 minute. With a sieve or slotted spoon, fish rapini out of the water and transfer to a colander to drain. Set aside.
Return water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente, 5 to 8 minutes; drain, reserving about ½ cup pasta water. Return pasta to pot.
Meanwhile, return skillet to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, drained rapini, garlic, and garbanzo beans. Cook, stirring, until rapini is tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss rapini and bean mixture with orecchiette. Add sausage and a little reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Stir in ¼ cup Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, topped with additional Parmesan cheese.