Broccoli is finally making a culinary comeback after it got a bad rap from Papa Bush, who repeatedly announced his aversion to the crucifer, along with childhood memories of scarfing down mushy camouflage-green stalks that our mom’s overcooked as if they were trying to destroy trichinosis in pork. Today traditional broccoli varieties along with exotic cousins are bountifully offered at farmer’s markets and supermarket produce aisles.
Boons of Broccoli: Native to the Mediterranean coastal regions, wild broccoli was a popular dish enjoyed by the ancient Romans. Not surprisingly, the word broccoli translates from Italian for “cabbage sprout.” The true broccoli plant that resembles miniature trees with bushy heads and chunky stalks is king of the Brassica family, which includes cauliflower, kale, bok choy and Brussels sprouts.
Broccoli is most potent as a nutritional warrior when eaten raw as cooking depletes the arsenal of antioxidants. It boasts more immune boosting vitamin C than oranges, a rich store of iron to pump up red blood cell production, an impressive supply of calcium that rivals whole milk for bone strength, Vitamin A for eye health, along with anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic nutrients. Recent studies coming out of the Linus Pauling Institute have also shown that concentrated amounts of the phytochemical sulforaphane contained in broccoli sprouts selectively seeks out and destroys cancer cells without causing collateral damage to healthy cells.
If that’s not enough, research in the U.S., Sweden and China established a strong link to higher rates of breast cancer and low cruciferous consumption. So broc up!
Branching Off: Expand your broccoli horizons with close and distant relatives including:
Broccolini, also called asparation, a slender stemmed crucifer with dainty florets and deep green leaves is actually a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale for a double antioxidant oomph;
Broccoflower, which resembles a pale green cauliflower head is a cauliflower and broccoli cross;
Broccoli raab having more names than a check forger (American gai lan, rabe, Italian turnip, brocoletti di rabe) is a turnip relative with wild herbal lineage. The flat, bright green bitter leaves are reminiscent of mustard greens, while the dainty florets resemble broccoli buds.
Broccoli rapini popular in Italian and Portuguese cuisines is frequently mistaken for its close cousin raab with similarly large bitter leaves, but fewer florets;
Chinese broccoli also called gai lan looks like kale on steroids with thick stems, large flat bluish green leaves, and tiny flower buds. A member of the Brassica family gai lan has a particularly pungent, bitter flavor profile;
Mighty broccoleaves with prominent stems and ribs are the giant bright green leafy portion of the plant without the flowering crowns. Earthy yet delicate tasting they pack a more powerful phytonutrient punch than the branches and heads;
Delicate-flavored Romanesco, an Italian heirloom brings to mind a prehistoric crucifer with clusters of dinosaur-esque spiraling spikes comprising the pale green florets;
Lovely Technicolor Purple Sprouting Broccoli is an heirloom that produces tender, vibrant violet crowns and stems that add a pop of eye candy to any dish;
Immature broccoli sprouts are three-day-old buds from the plant that resemble alfalfa sprouts yet taste like zippy radishes. One tablespoon of these potent sprouts has as much cancer-fighting sulforaphanes as a pound of broccoli!
Turn over a New Leaf: Raw broccoli can be blended in smoothies or shredded in creamy slaws. The florets can be tossed in green salads or with almonds or cashews in vinaigrette dressing; wrapped in prosciutto or crispy bacon, or eaten in hand with assorted hummus, Greek yogurt or eggplant dips.
Tender sprouts make a good burger or sandwich topping or filling for wraps. Crowns and stalks can be blended into silky sauces, soups or hearty stews. Mince and sauté luscious leaves into risottos, frittatas, taboulis or stir-fries. Braise, roast, grill or simply steam your favorite variety. Or for a striking eco-friendly (and economical) centerpiece, arrange bountiful purple broccoli stalks in an interesting vase.
Italian Broccoli Raab with Farfalle
• 1 pound farfalle
• 1 bunch broccoli rabe or rapini, trimmed, coarsely chopped
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 4 tablespoons butter (clarified/ghee preferred)
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 1/4 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
• 1 cup mushroom, vegetable or chicken broth
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed chile flakes
Method: Cook pasta for about 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain, set aside. In a skillet heat oil on low, sauté garlic about 1 minute. Add broth, rabe and seasonings, and simmer until tender. Add butter and heat until melted. Pour over pasta and blend in cheese. Bon appetito!