“We get three vegetables from the Brussels sprout plant,” says Tom DeNoble of DeNoble’s Farm. ”The sprouts, that everyone knows, are harvested in the fall through winter, then we harvest the leaves that grow around the sprouts in late winter, and in the early spring, there’s the rapini.” Tom explains that Brussels sprouts that are left on the plant will, in the early spring, unfurl and send up a budding shoot. These tops are delicious Brussels sprout rapini or raab (or rabe or rape). Brussels sprouts are one of a number of the members of the Brassiceae family that shoot out rapini. Come spring, we will also see turnip, broccoli, kale, and collard rapini, each unique in flavor, but similarly shaped – tender stalks bearing little branchy buds, like miniature spindly broccoli heads, and sometimes tiny yellow flowers (which are edible). These rapini are sweetly bitter in flavor.
Prepare them like very tender collards or kale. In fact, I do little more than cut them into wide strips (I include most of the stalk, since I’ve found it to be quite tender – and no use stripping away tasty edible parts of the plant!), then sauté them in a hot skillet with good olive oil (the preparation is so simple, and the greens cook for such a short time that the flavor of the olive oil is still present after cooking, so I opt for a fruity flavored cooking medium). I like to crush a couple of garlic cloves and let them warm in the oil before adding the greens. The whole crushed cloves lend a soft garlicky flavor to the greens (rather than having bits of sharp, assertive garlic to bite through if you use chopped), then you can remove them before serving (or eat them). I also sometimes add a scant pinch of chile flake, if I’m feeling a little spicy!
As hearty as Brussels sprout leaves may sound, they are quite delicate, their structure softening quickly in the pan, a minute longer than spinach, but much less cooking required compared to kale. I sautéed the leaves for about a minute and a half. Totally tender, with a little chew, no bitterness or pungency, just sweet sprout leaf, reminiscent of the sprouts of autumn, softened by winter’s chill.