Spigarello Leaf Broccoli

Photo of me in my community garden taken by Davin Risk.

Spigarello aka Spigariello is an old Italian heirloom leafy green that I grew last year. Some refer to it as broccoli rabe and others call it “leaf broccoli.” Both descriptions are apt. I’d put it somewhere between kale and broccoli.

The plant grows just like kale, but produces small broccoli-like florets late in the season. Every part of the plant is edible and tastes like broccoli. The new growth is tender enough to eat raw right off the plant. I sometimes munched on it as I worked.

We grew 4 plants in various gardens: 2 in pots on the roof, 1 in the community garden, and the forth at the yardshare. The plant at the yardshare was monstrous, probably the result of the heaps of duck manure that had been added to the bed. The location was on the shady side, and it was one of the most productive and happiest plants we grew in that spot (as was the kale. Also monstrous). The plant over at the community garden was also quite large, but it produced silvery leaves, the result, I suspect of a place in the sun. The roof plants did okay, but the 1-foot deep pots didn’t seem to be enough. I’d go larger in the future.

The plants came in two distinct leaf forms that had nothing to do with the way they were grown. Naturally, I preferred this thin leaf form.

Overall, this plant turned out to be a powerhouse and produced a ton of food that lasted for months and months. Along with kale, it was one of the last greens we were harvesting from at the end of the season. I very much wanted to grow spigarello again this year, but unfortunately our plants did not produce seed (probably from all of the picking).

Then, yesterday afternoon, I took a walk over to my favourite Italian grocer to look at the seed rack, and came across something called cavolo broccolo ‘A Getti di Napoli.’ It is described as “cut-and-come-again’ variety with lance-like leaves. This morning, while looking it up I made an amazing discovery — ‘A Getti di Napoli’ and Spigarello are one and the same!

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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18 thoughts on “Spigarello Leaf Broccoli

  1. I grew Broccoli rabe two summers ago. It tasted awful! After attempting to eat some for dinner one night, I went out into the garden and ripped all the plants out of the ground. However, mine looked completely different from the beautiful variety you have photographed. Maybe mine was was just a dud (or a less tasty variety).

  2. Now that’s some good looking rabe! The first year I tried Broccoli Rabe, I put planted in late-ish spring and got nothing but twigs with yellow flowers that bolted immediately. Last year, I put it in extremely early in March and it did much better but nothing like yours. It hated hot or even warm weather. I’ll try it early again this year with lots more manure and see what happens. I have two varieties, one is for fall planting, but that didn’t happen.

  3. What a neat looking plant. I have never heard of it, but now after seeing it and you decribing it..I just may have to try it! Thanks for sharing Gayla

  4. I’m a newbie at this and have a few questions:

    I started some broccoli rabe from seed just this past weekend and it has already started to come up. Based on the comments I’m reading, should I plan to not put it in a necessarily FULL SUN location? I’ve got a spot in our garden area that will have a little shade from a crape myrtle and certain times of the day. Do you think that the broccoli would be a good fit in this area?

    Also, and this will really show my naivety….when and how did you harvest this plant? Do you cut just from 1 section at a time all the way to the base? If so, does it continue to produce new growth? Sorry, I’m sure this is a ridiculous question to some people!

    Thanks in advance though!

  5. Broccoli rabe is one of my favorite bitter veggies. A year ago I grew some put planted them too late, I am hoping to start some very soon.
    I like adding it to lentils soups, just before serving.

  6. Spigarello! The chef at the restaurant I garden for asked me to grow this for them this year. Gayla- does it also work as an early spring crop (similar to Raab)? We grew broccli raab at the restaurant last year. I started them indoors about 6 weeks before I wanted to put them out (too soon, i’m going to start them four weeks before this year) then planted them out in early April. Got a couple harvests before they gave up in late May.

  7. Daedre: This doesn’t taste like any broccoli rabe I have tried. It was tender and delicious. I think I prefer it to kale.

    Lemongrass: Good idea (Lentil Soup).

    Jenny and Jessica: I bought mine as transplants last year so I don’t think they were planted until mid-May. I think that’s a bit late (Toronto), but my plants were happy. This year I am growing from seed and will likely put out in mid-April. I’m taking broccoli as my cue which like cool weather, but will not grow well if it is exposed to too much cold.

  8. I’m so happy to find a blog posting about Spigariello! I’m really happy to hear how how tasty it is and that it performs so well, especially in some shade. My hubby isn’t fond of the florets in typical broccoli but will eat Broccolini. This sounded like it was similar so I ordered Italian seeds to try and am just gearing up to start them.

  9. Gayla, the cynic in me thinks that seed companies deliberately use other names for plants that everyone else may be selling under the common name. I have been duped several times simply because a picture was not shown. Buyer beware.

    I love growing different veggies,and the Spigarello looks intriguing. I have found that the amount of water a plant receives has a lot to do with bitter taste. Two years ago, I had the best-looking broccoli plants I have ever grown (usually they were spindly). I really amended my soil, but did a top mulch of horse manure. That proved great for growth, but not for broccoli head production….too much nitrogen resulted in small heads. Lesson learned. The leaves never got bitter, however. Anyway, for cool weather plants heat is their enemy and they start bolting.

  10. Carolyn: I agree that water makes a difference when it comes to growing most types of broccoli.

    However, in this case, I grew the plant in three very different environments. All of the plants tasted the same. The only difference was in the size.

    Broccoli are not the easiest crop to grow. As you relate in your story, they thrive with lots of nitrogen, but not too much. They prefer being planted in the cold as long as it isn’t too cold. Too hot and forget it. Finding the balance they prefer can be difficult.

    That said, I found Spigarello to be easy and forgiving.

  11. Gayla, I am super intrigued by this plant…been on a mission to find some seeds…did both leaf forms come in the same seed packets or did you buy two varieties? I am most interested in the thinner lead form of course! Thank you so much for all you do on the blog!

  12. Brandi: I bought the original plants as transplants, not from seed. I am yet to grow these new seeds so I don’t know what will come of them.

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