Calling Artie Bucco

by Andy Griffin

Rapini has an identity crisis in the American marketplace. What else can you say about a vegetable that is variously called Broccoli rabe, rapini, cima di rapa, rape, raab, broccoletti, turnip broccoli, Italian turnip, ruvo kale, sparachetti, and broccoli rapa? No wonder shoppers don't support this tasty green vegetable with the alacrity they afford the "other" broccoli - they're confused. As a grower of Brassica rapa (Ruvo group) cultivar "Sessantina grosso" this situation alarms me. A promotional intervention is clearly called for. With the harvest upon me and no time to wait for mainstream food publications to educate the public about the virtues of rapini I called together some of my own multiple personalities to sit down together in my skull and plan a media blitz. What follows is a highly edited transcription of their conversation:

"I say let's sue the producers of Broccoli calabrese for identity theft. After all, it used to be that broccoli just meant "little shoot" in Italian and any cabbage family member could be plucked of its tender broccolis before the buds burst into flower. Then those Calabrian peddlers snuggled spears of their big, fat, green heads of broccoli calabrese next to every tub of ranch dressing in every salad bar across the nation and poof! - instant iconic status. No one can even remember all the other broccolis. We can prove in court that turnip broccoli, with its spicy, slender flower stalks, is closest to the most primitive broccolis that were gathered by proto Italian cavemen, hence the most deserving of the moniker "broccoli." We win the name, we win the game."

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"You're so negative, Andy. Too many people already suffer the misguided impression that broccoli rape is excessively bitter, and your bitter rant isn't going to sweeten their mood. Let's be positive and remind people that raab is very nutritious, high in vitamins A,C, and K, with a "bracing," "intense" flavor. We can teach folks to blanch broccoli rape in water as salty as the sea, three quarts to every pound of greens. Then they can drain the broccoli rape, cool it, and tumble with a vinaigrette before serving as a delicious salad, accessorized only with a pinch of chili flakes and some shaved, aged parmesan. The complex flavors of this healthy, stylish salad will seduce them so completely they'll forget all about their romance with the Brassica oleracea (Italica Group) cultivar "Packman" with its greasy ranch pomade.

"Andy, you're a wonk and a weirdo. The public does not wish to hear about boiling the ocean before dinner, nor do they share your fascination with botanical nomenclature. People won't eat rapini because they're conflicted about what it is. People crave warm, cozy simplicity. The problem is that with rapini all the various names serve to obscure the plants identity, not inform the diner. Rape is an ugly word and people don't care if it derives from the Latin rapa for turnip. Yes rapini is a form of turnip green but most people are still haunted by the excessive rank, mustard oil odor of overgrown, overcooked turnips that have been mashed into a nasty pulp. Why remind them? Broccoli is more diverse than Calabrese but the Calabrians have a powerful industry behind them so why fight them? Instead, let's take one name - my vote is for rapini because it alludes to the vegetables roots as a turnip but it ends in a cute ‘ini' diminutive - and then craft an image for the plant that serves our own needs.

You're onto something, Andy. Just look at what Bugs did for the carrot and Popeye did for spinach. But those were more innocent times. Rapini is going to need more than some cartoon character to give it sizzle. We're going to need famous cooks, mafia hit men and an attractive woman if we're going to make headway against those Calabrians. Luckily I know a guy who knows a guy who is close to the Sopranos. How about we get Artie Bucco to teach Carmela how to prepare a killer Rapini Vesuvio. She can serve it to Tony and the priest. The dish will knock them both out. Rapini will end up being talked about from FBI wiretaps and the pulpit. With God and the Devil promoting rapini we'll sell every bud we pick.

Good idea, Andy. You call Tony's chef and I'll get busy with the harvest.

copyright 2003 Andy Griffin

For Rapini recipes, click here.



This is España holding a bouquet of Rapini.