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Justyn McGrigor introduces the cime di rappe, a fiery and fabulous winter green that is both versatile and affordable.

One sip and I had a fiery reminder of cime di rappe, or rappe as we call it. I had been cheerfully handed a green juice from my wife, who had whipped up a vibrant green concoction from a combination of our fridge produce and some fresh greens provided by our Italian neighbour’s garden.

Our neighbour is old-school and superb in the garden. His fruit trees hang laden with fruit much of the year. With a productive garden and incredibly generous spirit, he will often leave a bag of produce on the fence for our family to eat.

So, I took a swig of the green juice, excited by the health benefits I was sure to get, only to be almost blown from my seat with the peppery aftertaste. The juice included a huge amount of rappe straight from the ground. Be warned people, in a concentrated form you will feel the burn of rappe!

The name cime di rappe translates as “turnip tops” - I have heard this plant is related to wild turnips but never found evidence to back that up. Other names this leafy green goes by are rappe, rapi, rapini, friarielli, broccoletti, broccoli di rape or grelos, dependant on where you are in southern Europe.

There are an enormous number of names and varieties of rappe, which vary in size of the plant and size of the ‘head’. Rappe is part of the Brassica family and the plants are a deep, rich green with spiky leaves and small clusters of buds with yellow flowers. The smaller the bud cluster, the younger the plant.

The flavor of cime di rapa is often described as bitter and pungent, a sensory sensation the Italians call amarognolo, which roughly translates to bitter. In the Puglia region of southern Italy where it is very popular, there is a preference for eating the heads alone. However, it’s all edible – the stems, the leaves and the heads can all be eaten solo or with pasta, traditionally orecchiette with sausage. It works well in a pesto or as a side dish too.

The Italians often cook rappe by par boiling then tossing it in some olive oil, garlic, chilli, even red peppers – it makes for a very tasty dish with that simple treatment.  Alternatively, steam it with some some salt flakes, lemon juice and parmesan. If you want to eat it raw or use a little in juice, select baby rappe as its more tender and moist than the more mature leaves.

Like most leafy greens, rappe is a source of goodness, with vitamins such as A, C and K.  It is also loaded with antioxidants and potassium, calcium and iron.

This lovely autumn/winter green grows in the Sydney Basin and is in season from April to September.  We sell them in bunches. They are relatively cheap (approximately $3 per bunch) and very versatile.

You should be able to purchase some rappe from a good local providore or greengrocer – especially if they are Italian! Or, if you are lucky like us, you can nip to your generous neighbour for a bunch fresh from the earth.  

Justyn McGrigor operates top supplier Murdoch Produce. Contact him on 02 8543 9999 or murdochproduce.com.au

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