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Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The word "broccoli" is the Italian plural of the word "broccolo" referring to the flowering top of the cabbage plant.  Broccoli is a plant in the cabbage family.  It most closely resembles the cauliflower which is another variety in the same species.   There are three common types of broccoli  including the most familiar which is the Calabrese broccoli from Calabria in Italy with its large green heads and thick stalks.   Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many small stalks.  Purple broccoli is sold in southern Italy, Spain and the UK and has a head like cauliflower but with tiny heads.  There is also what is called broccoli rabe.  Another name for it is rapini.  It has small heads like broccoli but is actually a turnip.

Thomas Jefferson first brought broccoli  seeds to Monticello from Italy.  He was not particularly fond of broccoli.  It wasn't until the Italian immigration of the 1920's that broccoli became more popular here in America.  The Italians knew the proper way to cook it.  

One of the dishes my Grandma Schiera would make was broccoli and macaroni.  She made it soupy with lots of oil and garlic.  My father told me that one time a cousin was eating over and asked what those floating  little green pieces were.  My father answered  that they were pieces of the broccoli, but his cousin insisted  they were bugs that came out of the broccoli when it was cooked.  My father did not like broccoli and macaroni for a long time after that.

Broccoli is a cool weather crop that is planted in the spring or fall.  It is available all year, but peak season is March through November.   Look for firm, clean stalks with tight bluish green florets.  Check the stems to make sure they are not too thick or hard.  Those tend to be woody.  You can peel off the outer skin of the stems and then slice it up to cook and eat with the florets.  Broccoli should have little or no fragrance.  Broccoli will keep up to seven days if refrigerated and kept moist.  Once it starts to get spongy you can slice off some of the bottom of the stalk and soak the broccoli in ice water to firm it up and extend the life. 

Broccoli is high in Vitamin C  and dietary fiber.  One of the compounds in broccoli is a potent modulator of the innate immune response with anti-bacterial, anti-virus, and anti-cancer activity.   Broccoli is usually boiled  or steamed, but may be eaten raw.  Researchers found that boiling reduces the anti-cancer compounds, but  steaming, stir frying, or microwaving has no significant effect. 

Broccoli can be prepared countless ways, but the less you do to it the better.   Steaming is my preferred way and then saute in olive oil, garlic and onion. 

So eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how.