Kids who call broccoli "trees" are imitating the Romans, who called it bracchium, meaning "strong branch or arm." Their nickname for it was "the five green fingers of Jupiter," and they ate a lot of it. Broccoli is one of the cruciferous vegetables--in the cabbage family--that is packed with beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A that researchers believe has anticarcinogenic properties.
Thomas Jefferson first brought broccoli seeds form Italy to Monticello. Although broccoli flourished there, Jefferson wasn't fond of it--probably because it was cooked to death. Broccoli didn't really catch on in the U.S. until the twentieth century; as Italian immigration increased, Italian farmers started growing it in California. They knew how to cook it, and by the mid - 1920's broccoli was becoming more popular. Although broccoli is grown almost everywhere, the bulk of the crop is still grown in California.
A cool - weather crop planted in the spring and fall, broccoli is available year round, but the peak of the season is March through November. It's usually very consistently priced, but when the price jumps up 30 to 40 percent, you know it's out of season and in short supply.
Look for a firm, clean stalk with tight, bluish-green florets. Check the stalks to make sure they're not too thick and hard--they will be a bit woody. Most important, the florets should be tightly closed and the broccoli should have little or no fragrance. Broccoli is eaten at an immature stage; left to grow in the field, the buds will open into yellow flowers. Buds that are starting to open and look yellowish will be mushy and have a strong cabbage taste. Use your nose when you're selecting broccoli: if a head has an odor, it's not good.
Broccoli will keep up to seven days if refrigerated and kept moist. You can break apart the stalks and put them in ice water or spread crushed ice on top. Or wrap broccoli in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and place in the crisper.
Did you know?
Cup for cup, broccoli has as much Vitamin C as oranges and as much Calcium as milk.
The less you do to broccoli, the more it will do for you. Broccoli will lose up to 30 percent of its vitamins and minerals when it's cooked, so for nutritional reasons as well as good flavor, never overcook it. Broccoli is also very good raw on a platter of cruditˇs, added to other vegetables in a salad, or served with dips.
At certain times of the year, broccoli may harbor a bug or worm or both. When cleaning, soak the head in salted water about fifteen minutes, and the critters will float to the top.
Broccoli can be prepared in countless ways. Sautˇ it with a little garlic and onion. Add it to pasta, or serve it blanched and cooled in a vinaigrette. It's excellent simply steamed for a few minutes and serve with a dab of butter or squeeze of lemon--or both. To steam, put it in about half an inch of salted water, stem ends down. Don't let the buds touch the water--they'll cook very quickly and will get mushy and disintegrate. Cover and cook over low to medium heat for not more than four to five minutes--just until it's fork tender. Check the pot once or twice to make sure there is adequate liquid in the bottom to keep from burning, and add a few tablespoons of water as needed. Properly cooked, broccoli has a delicate flavor and arrives at the table tender-crisp and bright green. If you're going to add lemon or vinegar, do it at the last minute because they tend to drab the color.
At my house, we also eat broccoli in a stir-fry, with snow peas and pork. And in the wintertime I love Betty's Cream of Broccoli Soup. It's rich, but is it good!
Broccoli Alá Dolores
Broccoli Rabe & Sausage
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Patsy's Pasta Primavera
Other recipes from Produce Pete.