This is an other one of my favourite winter greens. And it is not a bad bunch!!
In Italian they are called cime di rape – literally translated as turnip tips (cime di rapa is the singular). They are sometimes also called broccoli di rape and are characterised by their strong bitter taste. They are deep green with small yellow flowers.
Cime di rape are certainly a very popular green vegetable and cooked all over Italy. It is particularly associated with the region of Puglia where the traditional classic pasta dish, orecchiette con cime di rape originates (orecchiette meaning little ears).
Cime di rape are members of the brassica or mustard family group. This diverse group includes plants whose leaves, flowers, stems and roots are cooked and eaten. For example popular brassicas include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, cavolo nero. Some of the roots are kohlrabi, radish, swede and turnips. (By the way, I eat all of the green tops when I can get them and one of my favourite stall holders at the Queen Victoria Markets know this only too well).
A number of Asian greens are members of the brassicas and the Chinese broccoli and mustard greens are very similar in taste to broccoli di rapa.
As far as I know this vegetable can only be found at my favourite stall – Carmel and Gus’s Stall 61-63- in The Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, but it may also be available in suburban areas where the greengrocer is of Italian heritage.
In Adelaide many of the green grocer shops and vegetable growers are Italians and when I was living there, cime di rape seemed more readily available. The seeds are easily found especially in shops which sell Italian food – my son and a number of my friends grow them successfully in their Adelaide suburban gardens.
Strangely enough, I came across a patch of luscious looking cime di rape at Heronswood (Digger’s Seeds, Victoria). It is marketed as one of the Green Manures, a bio fumigant crop for soils.
The cime di rape can be eaten as a contorno (side dish of vegetables) and cooked in the same way as Italians cook most greens – wilted and then tossed around in oil and garlic (I use lots), salt and pepper or chilli, and cooked till softened. If the vegetable is cut small enough, there is no need to wilt them first.
This is also the way of making a strong pasta sauce for orecchiette. If you do not use orecchiette, casarecci (right -hand side of photo) or a small tubular pasta which can trap the sauce is suitable.
Clean and prepare the cime as you do broccoli – leaves, flowers, stems and stalks. The tough, fibrous outer layer covering can be stripped from the large stalks (see photo above with the fibrous outer layer peeled back – remove this layer entirely).