Editor’s Note: Starting this Saturday, the Daily Press will feature a local vegetable, fruit, flower or food you can find at Santa Monica Farmers Markets.
“Call it rapini,” Alex Weiser said as he handed me the loose bundle of dainty yellow flowers and leaves. “I like saying rapini.”
Weiser is telling me the Italian word for broccoli rabe. I’ve seen its name in cursive below the bold letters of a main entree on a special night out: validation I’ve chosen a good restaurant because they are very specific about their broccoli. And who can blame the chef for being a little more selective? Broccoli is the tiny tree relegated to the most neglected corner of the party vegetable tray.
In contrast, Broccoli rabe, looks more like a blossoming bouquet than the sad tiny trees left at the bottom of a dieter’s lunchbox. It’s not even broccoli, being more closely related to the turnip.
The Italian name rapini sounds more like a pasta than a classic Italian green. In fact, rapini and linguini nestle together neatly in a bowl.
Weiser says usually chefs seek it out.
“Restaurants kind of know it more,” Weiser said. “The public doesn’t know.”
Well, public, the secret is out. Broccoli rabe is the ultimate cheat to make people believe you know your way around a recipe book. Weiser says the trick is to not overthink it. Simply add oil, a little seasoning and a lot of heat.
That’s it. The prettiest green is also low-maintenance. The delicate, yellow flowers wilt elegantly in the oven or skillet. The leaves soak up the oil. A little garlic and pepper accent the slightly bitter taste.
“Some people like more flowers. You eat the whole thing,” Weiser said with a shrug. “It’s personal taste.”
You can find Weiser Family Farms selling rapini at all for local farmers markets the next two months. Weiser aims to please chefs and specialty produce buyers who are looking for stand out vegetables but he says it’s a happy accident that he began selling broccoli rabe when his supplier sent him the wrong seeds in the mail.
He discovered it’s a great winter crop he can harvest from January until March when it gets too hot on his family farm two hours away.
“We just cut every two or three days depending on the weather. In the winter, your days are shorter so you’re not growing as fast. It’s a cool weather thing.”
Weiser won the 2015 Tom Haller Award for making a significant impact on the farming industry in California. It’s presented every year by the California Small Farms Board of Directors. He has partnered with local restaurants to bring seasonally fresh menus to life. You can ask him all about it when you pick up your bouquet of broccoli rabe.
Or, just flash a smile and call it rapini.
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.