Being the second generation Italian that I am, growing up long before Andy Boy brought broccoli rabe into the mainstream, whenever my mom would work
her magic, and have this exotic, bitter and very tasty green appear on the dinner table, it was always a celebration.
My mom had her sources, the corner stores in South Philly, the Italian neighborhood of Philadelphia, or, from the local baker, who had connections to the authentic Italian food pipeline. The sandwiches of grilled sausage or roast pork, topped with broccoli rabe and imported provolone cheese so sharp that it felt like it was cutting your tongue, are fond memories of how food was such a integral part of who I am today.
As much as we grew in our garden year after year, we never grew broccoli rabe. The organic farmer that my dad got our plants from never had it as plants, and none of the farmer friends of the family ever grew it. Seeds were never available.
Since this year since I’m challenging myself to try an intensive approach to my garden, which is allowing me to grow a wide variety of vegetables, of course I had to grow this family heirloom food. It’s a treasure that held a special place at my family’s table.
A descendant of a wild herb, and a member of the mustard family, it’s classified as a turnip. Broccoli rabe is used by Italians, Chinese, Portugal and the Netherlands, and now readily available in America.
I ordered two vairties of broccoli rabe seeds, Sorrento and Rapini, which is a generic name for this plant. I planted both, and had a much better harvest of the Sorrento. Both were planted at the same time, and what I found was the Sorrento grew a little larger, but for all intents and purposes, they could’ve been the same plant. They tasted alike also. I’m letting some bolt to seed and will have a fall harvest from those seeds.
It’s a small plant, and would work in containers, and naturally, in a herb garden considering it’s lineage.
I love that this was my first harvest. It’s a family tradition, and it’s the core of Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution. Now, if I could just grow some of that provolone cheese…