Tuesday, 29 January 2013 | 33 comments

Braised rapini with harissa & preserved lemons

I’ve been walking this fine line between total irreverence and over-seriousness, lately, when I sit down to write. I am living my own special brand of crazy, admonishing myself, “It’s just an EGG, Sarah.” Case in point: I just backspaced an entire draft of this post that referenced and quoted a political philosophy book of mine from college. (I’m feeling a special affection for the hungry little blinking cursor that ate up those words.)Someone asked me the other day, “Why food?” I think they meant it in a nice, curious way, but of course I took it as a bit of an affront, translated as “Sometimes you’re not really writing about a recipe, so why do you pretend like you are?” or, even worse (my insecurities tell me), “This is inane. It’s just food.”

It took time to get over my initial defensiveness, much less to formulate an answer, but I think I have something now. Maybe a rough draft, but something:

I write about food because it has proven an extraordinary lens through which to view relationships and economy and family and dirt and nourishment and hunger.


There will be a cake, next time, I promise you, or maybe a very buttery scone. I don’t want you all starting to think this is some kind of health food blog, some window into the world of that odd woman in the cubicle next to you who eats, three days in a row, for lunch: first, a wedge of cabbage; second, a tart (that’s promisingly normal, until you realize it’s made out of KALE); and then third, Isweartogod, she’s eating a bunch of broccoli rabe. That’s not me, I promise. Especially in January, when I mount rebellion.
Rebellion, that is, against the whole restrictive diet-y, New-Years-y slow march to your doom (I am being possibly overdramatic here) when you eat fastidiously and sparingly until you, like a junkie finally tapping into a vein, consume an entire quart of ice cream from the corner drugstore. This happened recently to a friend of mine, and, although like all of us, I struggle with a lot of things, I guess I’m lucky because that particular quandary is not one of them. I really like all these cruciferous green leafy things, so much so that I eat them voluntarily and frequently, not just because it’s January 25th.

In any case, it is very difficult to think of something as luscious, something as slicked down with smoke and tang and spice as this rapini, to be any sort of sacrifice. With the cold snap that descended on much of the U.S. last week, I found myself paging through Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, one of those books that is much-lauded and for darn good reason. Her treatment of vegetables is especially exciting, and inspired this braised rapini. Of all greens, rapini is a bit difficult to love, very astringent with sometimes tough stems, but this recipe coddles those qualities into cooperation. Good by itself, the dish is possibly further improved if you throw an egg onto your still hot, harissa-and-lemon skillet, fry it up, and slide it on top of the rapini.

Braised rapini with harissa & preserved lemon

Inspired by techniques in Molly Stevens’ book, All About Braising

You’ll need

  1. 1 bunch rapini/broccoli rabe (my bunch was about 20 ounces)
  2. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  4. 1 tablespoon prepared harissa (storebought, or make your own)
  5. 1 cup water
  6. 1 or 2 wedges of preserved lemon, thinly sliced lengthwise
  7. Coarse salt and pepper


  1. Trim rapini of any tough or dry stem ends, and rinse in thoroughly. Don’t worry about any water still clinging to the rapini after rinsing; it does not have to be totally dry.
  2. In a thick bottomed skillet or dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the rapini. Use tongs to toss and coat in the oil.
  3. After a 4-5 minutes, the rapini should start to wilt, brown in spots, and cook down. Add the garlic and continue to saute, tossing or stirring occasionally, another 1-2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
  4. Add the harissa and toss to distribute. Then, add the water. Bring the pot to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the thickest parts of the rapini stems are very tender and easily pierced with a knife. In the final several minutes of cooking, add the slices of preserved lemon, tossing to incorporate them in the cooking liquid.
  5. If you find that the water has boiled away and the rapini has not yet finished cooking to desired tenderness, you may need to add more.
  6. Taste for salt and pepper and season, if necessary, although your preserved lemons and harissa may well be salty enough to carry the dish. Remove the rapini from the heat and transfer to a platter or plates. If you wish to serve it with a fried egg, use the same skillet in which you braised the rapini, to soak up any last bits of harissa-lemon-oil.
  7. Serve immediately.

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§ 33 responses to Braised rapini with harissa & preserved lemons

  • Everything in moderation, including moderation. If it was good enough for Julia Child, it’s good enough for me. :)

  • Ah, this looks wonderful, Sarah. Admittedly, rapini is probably the only bitter green that I avoid at the grocery store. The last time I sauteed some with garlic, I found it to be unbearably bitter, and I like dark, bitter greens. But maybe it just needed a different treatment? I’ll have to give it a second chance soon. I was going to start preserving some lemons later today anyway, so this shouldn’t be far off.

    • Yeah. I think it also depends on the rapini you get, too, just like anything, you can find the big, overblown kind that’s outta control bitter. I know you’re adventurous with your greens, so see if you like it! Thanks, Katie.

  • i will eat anything with harissa and preserved lemon. anything :) this looks amazing.

  • This looks delicious! I love rapini. It’s time to make my own preserved lemons. Thanks!

  • I confess an almost inordinate love for greens as well, and eat them year round so that when January comes, it doesn’t look all that weird. But I have never done up a pan of rapini, and now, after reading this, I feel the need to seek it out. And of course, any good green topped with a runny egg is sheer perfection.

  • This looks delicious (of course, I’m sure you could slap an egg on anything and I’d probably say the same thing!)

    Ps- loved seeing you on Saveur and reading your answers! You have such a wonderful voice through words!

  • It took me a long time to learn to love rapini, but I finally discovered that it needs some strong flavours and a splash of something acidic to tone down its bitterness. I’ve never tried it quite this way, but seeing as I’ve yet to find any vegetable that isn’t improved by a spoonful of harissa (or by a fried egg on top, for that matter), this is definitely going on my must-make list!

  • Hi Sarah! I am also very much against the, oh, how did you put it? “whole restrictive diet-y, New-Years-y slow march to your doom.” ha! Which brings me to ask if you saw the interview Bon Appetit did with the LA designer who seems to subsist mainly on juice?? I mean, to each his own, but Bon App is a food magazine, no??

    ALSO, I preserved my own lemons for the first time, so thank you for the inspiring photos and recipe!!

    • :) It was subtle, the way I phrased that, no? Preserved lemons are one of my favorite ingredients ever. xo

    • That was a disturbing article to me! The juice and the 5am bootcamp seven days a week! You’re right. To each her own.

    • Tim

      This looks lovely, Sarah.

      a) katie- I have the same problem with rapini…do you think it is a Chicago thing? Are we only buying bad rapini? I like it just fine in restaurants.
      b) lets discuss the bon appetit profile more! it blew my mind. i kept thinking i was misreading it. one of us needs to write about that. i volunteer amelia.

      • hhahahaaha thanks for volunteering me, Tim!! I’m actually planning a send up of Mr. Knowlton because of his 50-word rant on why we shouldn’t eat out on Valentine’s Day. His reason? It’s “amateur hour!” like being in an airport security line with first-time flyers, he says.

        Say wahhhhh? What is an “amateur eater” exactly, and how is he or she going to ruin my meal?? OYyyyyy, that magazine drives me crazy.

  • BEAUTY! This sounds absolutely delicious.

  • Now this sounds like an excellent reason to make up a batch of preserved lemons ASAP! I love the combination of dark greens and melting egg yolk too. :)

  • I know that line all too well & I love you answer to why you write about food (and also, you’re not really writing about food are you? You’re writing about life). This dish is just gorgeous.

  • Oh, how I love it when I see EGGS on your blog… then I know I am bound to bookmark the recipe and fall in love with it, when I try it out (like I did with the sizzling vinegar “dressing”). I don’t think I can find rapini here in France, but I will think up an alternative, what would you replace it with?

  • I have often struggled with the “why food?” question. I left the nursing profession for a career in food, and even though I followed my passion, I worried that my work in food was not significant enough. Finally I settled on an answer: I’m still practicing the art of healing and nourishing others, just in a different way. :) Keep the leafy greens coming- I can’t get enough of them.

  • Molly Stevens is brilliant! I need to check that out from the library again.. there was too much left to read and study.

    p.s. so nice to see you on Saveur!

  • I couldn’t agree more when it comes to writing about food. It’s such an incredible lens through which to view life, tells you so much about people, society, the economy and so much more. Completely fascinating and so essential.

    This looks like exactly the kind of dinner I’d like to eat more often if my boyfriend wasn’t such a raving carnivore :-) Let’s here it for greens all year round, rather than only eating them in a penitential way in January.

  • it’s good to be conflicted, as far as i’m concerned. sure it’s just an egg. but when we’re trying hard to see/understand all the analogies around us, it’s kinda hard to be flippant about anything. …without first being flippant about everything. kind of like why my two favorite musicians are ray lamontagne and ke$ha. anyway, your post reminds me that i need to learn from you vegetable-lovers and eat more of them. maybe the egg tactic would serve me well.

  • Jessie

    I am the sort of person who would (and has, and will again) happily eat an entire batch of broccoli rabe in one sitting. This is basically the exact opposite of how I normally cook mine, however: I drop my greens into boiling water to blanch for about 4-5 minutes, then add them to a skillet with olive oil and garlic to finish. I wonder if they turn out the same in the end?

  • THANK YOU for getting off the silliest bandwagon in American culture. January is the absolute LAST time of year to be eating “healthy” in my opinion – what fresh veg are available are almost all best when boiled, braised, or mashed. Salad greens are insipid and tomatoes and cucumbers a drag, so salad is out.

    Come the coldest weather of January and February, I crave mashed root veggies, cheesy gratins and pastas, fresh bread and butter, savory soups and stews…. you get my drift. About the only “salads’ I can stand are napa cabbage slaws with apples or celery salads or citrusy compotes. My favorite way to eat greens this time of year is “kale-cannon” (i.e. mashed potatoes and well-cooked kale mashed together with a little butter and salt).

    It’s all well and good to eat more vegetables and simpler meals (especially after indulgent holidays), but starving yourself on juice and lettuce? No thanks.

  • Though I cannot get so many green stuff here, the egg, harissa and lemons will make a batch of spinach wonderful. This is a great plate of food Sarah! And about the rest, blogs are public, but they´re also personal. I don´t think anyone should apologize for writing or eating whatever they want. Visit the blogs you like and don´t visit those you don´t. Is that too harsh? What makes your blog amazing is that you write your own story, whatever it might be.

  • Connie

    What a terrific recipe! Need to make some more preserved lemons immediamente.
    Loved the Saveur article too. :)

  • Hi Sarah, I think food is an extraordinary lens through which to view so many things. It is universal. We all need it to survive, we each have our tastes, our traditions, our hang ups and pleasures surrounding food and all of those come from somewhere, some lesson, some experience, some culture. I think its like art or music: sometimes food lets you tap into something much more instinctual or emotional than words alone can.

    Keep it up! And don’t let anyone diminish it.

  • Tried this for lunch today. I don’t know if it’s just that the rapini available in Chicago isn’t that great or if I’m just not a rapini person, but this particular bunch was just a little too bitter for me. The fried egg and a bit of extra harissa swirled into the cooked greens helped, though. Maybe I’ll have to keep an eye out for rapini at the farmers’ market. Still, I now have a modest jar of homemade red-hot harissa in the fridge, so no regrets here.

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