Herbs & Spices
Broccoli Broccoli
People who eat broccoli simply because they like it, or because their mothers told them to, will be glad to know that broccoli is one of the most popular and nutritious of all vegetables. Broccoli consumption has increased over 940 percent in the last 25 years. It is not only rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, but is loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals as well.

The word broccoli comes from the Italian word brocco, meaning "arm" or "branch." Early settlers in the United States apparently knew it as brockala; Italian Americans often referred to it as broccali. Broccoli has been around for at least 2000 years, and was a favorite food of the Romans. It was found in France in the 1500's, England in the 1700's, and introduced to the United States in the 1900's. California produces about 90 percent of the broccoli grown commercially in the United States, with Arizona coming in second, followed by Washington, Maine, Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Florida.

Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family and that is good news, however, they contain sulfurous compounds that can emit odors that are off-putting, so that is bad news. Don't overcook it or it will stink up the joint, and don't undercook it because raw or undercooked broccoli just doesn't taste very good.

Broccoli Nutrition Selection and Storage
Pick bunches that have a clean fresh scent, a firm head with compact, dark green clusters that may have purple highlights, stalks on the slender side (thick stalks will be tough), and crisp leaves. Give the bunch a squeeze, and if it squeaks, you know it is fresh. Yellow clusters or yellow flowers showing on the inside are signs of poor quality. Store broccoli in the high-humidity vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for up to three days.

Separate the florets from the stalk by cutting them off where they naturally attach to the stalk. Peel the stalk and cut into thin rounds or matchsticks, and start them cooking a few minutes before you add the florets. If you cut the stalk into small enough pieces, it won't be necessary to peel the base of the florets and they will cook in about the same time as the florets.

Packaged broccoli cuts are becoming popular as a convenience item. Stalks, whether diced, sliced into "coins," or shredded, and florets (the small individual "flowers" that make up the larger head) can be used in stir-fries and salads. Trimmed broccoli spears are ready for steaming, and broccoli coleslaw (with red cabbage and carrots) is an alternative to the standard cabbage slaw.

As with many vegetables, nutrients are best preserved with microwave cooking. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer steaming. A head of broccoli cut into pieces will cook by steaming in about 7 or 8 minutes, microwave in about 5 minutes, and boil in about 5 minutes. After steaming or steam-boiling for one to two minutes, lift the lid for 10 to 15 seconds. This will disperse the strong-tasting sulfurous compounds that form when broccoli cooks. Cover and finish cooking.

Refresh broccoli in ice water to maintain its bright green color if you're not using it right away or are making a cold presentation. Broccoli goes well in Italian preparations such as pasta dishes, beans, potatoes, or polenta with garlic, olive oil, olives, balsamic vinegar, anchovies, and pork meats such as sausage and pancetta. Broccoli also tastes lovely with freshly grated nutmeg.

Tony's Tip
To enjoy broccoli's true flavor, do what the Italians do and keep preparations simple. I like broccoli with just some chopped garlic, lightly sautéed in olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Tony's Favorite Recipe
Broccoli with Bagna Cauda Sauce

is the primary commercial variety of broccoli, named for the Italian province of Calabria.

Broccoli Seasons Broccoflower is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower that not only looks like a green head of cauliflower, it also tastes like cauliflower, only slightly sweeter.

Broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. It's long, slender stem is similar to asparagus, and the small flowering buds on top look like a cross between broccoli florets and an asparagus tip. Even though baby broccoli looks somewhat like asparagus, they are not related.

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