Exploring Broccoli: How to Change It From Loathsome to “Lovable”

Updated on October 18, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.

— George Bush, U.S. President (1990)

...and with those words, every mother in the America despaired of ever enticing her children to consume broccoli ever again.

However, A Long Time Ago...

...(but not in another galaxy) Brassica oleracea italica was growing wild in the Mediterranean region of Europe. As the name might imply, Italy is the birthplace of the cultivar we know today as broccoli. In fact, the name broccoli comes from the Italian brocco, meaning sprout' or shoot' which, in turn came from the Latin brachium, meaning 'arm' or 'branch.'

Food historians date brassica to about 6,000 B.C. when Etruscans were cultivating wild cabbage plants. Pliny the Elder (Roman philosopher and author) wrote of it, and the Romans enjoyed a form that was purple (similar to the color of red cabbage).Yes, long before George Bush announced his dread of the green veggie that resembles a landscape tree for a model railroad, Roman children were eating their broccoli.

And Far, Far Away

And by the 6th century B.C. the Roman Empire had gradually infiltrated Britain. With the Romans came cabbage and its cousins kale and cauliflower, but broccoli was still an unknown. In the 1600s Philip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary (1724) referred to it as “Italian asparagus.”

A century later, Thomas Jefferson obtained packets of “exotic” seeds from friends in Europe; as a result he planted tomatoes and broccoli in his Monticello garden to accompany his salad greens. Yet, broccoli was little more than a curiosity.

The stems will eat like Asparagus, and the heads like Cauliflower.

— John Randolph, in A Treatise on Gardening by a Citizen of Virginia, 1775
broccoli plant
broccoli plant

But Then...

That all changed however when two brothers, Stefano and Andrea D’Arrigo, emigrated from Messina, Sicily to the United States of America. Stefano was the first to arrive, making his home in Boston in 1904; brother Andrea joined him in 1911. Together they studied English, obtained engineering degrees, and even served our Nation in WWI. After the war, they found success in operating a roadside produce stand. A quest to locate wine grape plants led Stephano to central California where he discovered fertile farmland at (pardon the pun) dirt cheap prices. With 28 acres and mail order seeds from their homeland, the brothers planted broccoli. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. There was no interstate highway system at that time, so the freshly harvested produce was loaded into boxes and sent to Boston by railroad.

Ultimately Stephano permanently relocated to California to take care of the production side of the business, and Andrea maintained sales on the east coast. Soon others followed the brothers’ lead, and agricultural production in California became a phenomenal success. Today, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California produces over 30,000 acres of fresh produce each year and is a leader in the industry.

Why Is Broccoli So Popular Now?

There is no denying that broccoli is a favorite of dietitians and nutritionists; this simple green annual plant is crammed with health benefits -- it's a powerhouse of anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and Omega-3's.

How to Select and Store Fresh Broccoli

  • Look for florets that are tight clusters. If they look like a flower about to blossom, they are old.
  • Color is also important; fresh broccoli heads are dark green or purple/green (depending on the variety that you select). Avoid any that are yellowed or appear damaged (bruised).
  • Any attached leaves should be fresh-looking, not limp.
  • To store, place broccoli in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. It will keep this way, if refrigerated, for up to 10 days.
  • Do not wash broccoli until you are ready to prepare and use it.

And the Best Way to Cook It?

  • To keep your broccoli bright green, crisp, flavorful, and full of nutrients, steam it gently just until crisp-tender.
  • Stir-frying quickly in a hot pan is also an excellent method. But please don't boil your broccoli. That's a sure road to the sorry-looking, dull green veggie that haunted President Bush.
  • There is one exception however. In the recipe for Orecchetti with Broccoli (below) broccoli is cooked in boiling water until it is extremely soft -- but this is so that, combined with some of the pasta-cooking water, it will become a "sauce" for the orecchetti.

Featured Recipes

  • Easy Cream of Broccoli/Cheddar Soup
  • Fresh Broccoli-Bacon Salad (and Variations)
  • Orecchetti Pasta with Broccoli
  • Baked Broccoli "Tots"
  • Broccoli Pesto
  • Carb Diva Broccoli Quiche


Easy Cream of Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

My daughters are vegetarian, and this is a meal that I love to put together for us. It is so rich and comforting, we don't miss the meat.


  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 pound broccoli florets (about 5 cups)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated


  1. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add broccoli and sauté 2 minutes. Add broth. Cover and simmer until broccoli is tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. Working in batches, transfer soup to blender and purée until smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in milk. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.) Bring soup to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add grated Cheddar and serve.

Fresh Broccoli-Bacon Salad (and Variations)

Our church has lots of potluck meals. (It's a Lutheran thing. If you don't believe me, ask Garrison Keillor). Fresh broccoli salad almost always makes an appearance. In my version, I blanch the broccoli for just a moment to help it retain its green color and eliminate the raw taste that makes so many people hate broccoli.


  • 1 pound fresh broccoli
  • 6 slices turkey bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • ½ cup red onion, finely minced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. While waiting for the water to boil, fill a large bowl with water and ice.
  2. Prepare the broccoli by cutting off the woody stems. Slice the remaining tender stems and broccoli florets into bite-size pieces.
  3. Drop the broccoli into the rapidly boiling water and then immediately remove and shock in the bowl filled with water and ice. Drain well.
  4. Combine prepared broccoli, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and pecans in large mixing bowl.
  5. In separate bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, and vinegar.
  6. Toss dressing with broccoli mixture.
  7. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

But wait, there's more!

You can easily change this recipe by changing the bacon to another savory/smoky treat, use a different type of nut, and/or use a different type of cheese. Here are a few suggestions (the last one is vegetarian).

Diced ham
chopped walnuts
shredded Swiss cheese
Chopped fried pancetta
pine nuts
shaved Parmesan cheese
cooked diced chorizo
crumbled queso fresco
chopped smoked almonds
diced Granny Smith apple
sliced brie

Orecchiette with Broccoli

Orecchiette is Italian for "little ears", and that is just what these pasta (usually dried) resemble. I use them because I love their shape, but their cup shape also causes a bit of trouble in the kitchen. They tend to stick together (like the bowls of two spoons in the dishwasher). When that happens, you have a clumpy mess on your hands. The solution is to stir constantly while they simmer.

If you don't have the time (or patience) for that, by all means use another type of pasta -- penne or rigatoni would be a good substitute.


  • 1 head broccoli (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounches) orecchiette, or pasta of your choice
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1 large salted anchovy fillet, chopped (see note below)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • pinch (just a small pinch) of red pepper flake


  • a drizzle of good-quality olive oil
  • grated Parmesan or Romano cheese


  1. Remove woody stem from broccoli and discard. Chop the head into small florets and cut the tender stems into 1/4-inch thick slices. Boil in well-salted water for 10 minutes or until very tender (the broccoli should be almost falling apart).
  2. Drain well; spread out on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the oil.
  3. While waiting for the broccoli to cool (and luxuriate in that tasty olive oil), bring a large kettle of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente (which in Italian means to the tooth. Your pasta should not be flabby and turning to mush--it should still have a tiny bit of resistance when you bite into it).
  4. Just before the pasta is done, finish your sauce. Place the anchovy, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large cold sauté pan. Cook over very low heat until the anchovy has melted (yes, it will completely fall apart) then add the broccoli.
  5. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the pan; increase the heat to medium and cook about 2 minutes more.
  6. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on the top and grated cheese.

NOTE: Don't be afraid to use anchovies. Anchovy will NOT make your dish taste "fishy". They totally disintegrate and become a part of the sauce. They are briny and salty, not fish-tasting.

(Recipe adapted from 'Conchiglie Rigate Con Broccoli Romanesco, The Geometry of Pasta, 2010').

Baked Broccoli "Tots"

Tater Tots are a frozen food treat available in the United States. Sadly, I don't think their fame (or availability) has expanded beyond our little piece of the globe. For those of you who do not live in North America, let me explain tater tots -- they are tiny bits of white potato partially cooked and then mixed with seasonings and formed into nuggets. They are flash-frozen and ready to be made crisp and golden by pan frying, baking in the oven, or deep frying.

Broccoli tots are a healthier version of the tater tot. You still have the golden, crunchy yumminess, but instead of potato bits of broccoli are the star of the show.

Layla Atik is the creator of this wonderful treat and the human behind gimmedelicious.com.

NOTE: - When I made these I found that they would not stick together. Perhaps I was too generous when measuring out 2 cups of broccoli. I added another egg and that solved the problem.

Broccoli Pesto


Kristin is a busy lady -- she works full-time, is a wife, and the mother to two teenage boys. Nevertheless, she strives to serve healthy, delicious food to her family, and she shares her innovative recipes with all of us on her blog.

Carb Diva's Broccoli Quiche

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Lum


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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you Mary. Of course, you can use real bacon instead of the turkey bacon. I hope your family enjoys it. What else are you serving?

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        Great dishes. Am in search of what veggies to serve for dinner tonight and I came into your hub. Will definitely try to make the salad for a start.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        15 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you John. You and I are now following each other. I am always looking for new ideas, so if you have any food-related topics that you would like to see addressed, I would love hearing from you.

      • JohnPLyons profile image

        John Lyons 

        15 months ago from UK & USA

        Great ideas! Love this!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bravewarrior - We were once strictly the 'meat and potatoes' kind of family. But one day our younger daughter announced that she had become a vegetarian, and our world turned upside down -- for the better. We rarely (no pun intended) consume beef anymore. Strictly fish and fowl and at least once a week totally veg. I know we're healthier for it.

        Thanks for your kind words and support.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        18 months ago from Central Florida

        I love broccoli. My mom served it all the time when we were growing up. I called them "little trees".

        Your broccoli quiche recipe looks delicious. One night I made tacos using tofu instead of ground beef. You really couldn't taste the difference and they were so much healthier than traditional tacos.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Rachel - The pasta dish is one of my favorites. The "tots" won't fool anyone--they DO taste like broccoli, but in a good way (haha). Happy New Year to you.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Blond Logic - I considered including a section on 'how to grow' but this hub was already at 1,800+ words. Broccoli is a cold weather crop. It doesn't like being really hot. However, the leaves are certainly good to eat. You can use them like kale.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish - I almost included a broccoli casserole. There are a million of them (OK, slight exaggeration) on the internet. I'll bet yours is wonderful--comfort food at its best. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Rachel L Alba profile image

        Rachel L Alba 

        18 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

        Hi CarbDiva, I love broccoli. That broccoli salad you show is one of my daughter's favorites. The recipe I have is just slightly different, but basically the same. I absolutely love broccoli with orecchiette, the broccoli tots look very interesting. Thanks for these recipes.

        Have a blessed New Year.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        18 months ago from Brazil

        I tried growing it here as we have a year round temperature of 87 degrees. I had never grown it before but it grew very tall (about 4 feet high). The heads were small but tasty. I ate the leaves, which tasted like broccoli, in my salad. I couldn't believe the size of the leaves. It takes a lot out of the soil but I plan to have another go but in a different location.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        18 months ago from USA

        My dad grows tons of broccoli Leo that I can make him broccoli cheddar soup. Yours sounds similar to mine but I keep making ne chunky. I also like the idea of broccoli tots. I also have an awesome recipe for broccoli casserole that is a perennial favorite. Great article!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Blond Logic - Please tell your hubbie that the authority (by the way, that's me) says that the BEST way to eat broccoli is raw. When you cook it some of the nutritional value is lost.

        I considered including a stir fry recipe, but assumed (perhaps in error) that everyone knows how to do a stir fry. To me, there are few things that smell better than garlic cooked properly in a hot pan.

        How sad that you can't have broccoli year-round. We do, but I assume that some of it comes from Mexico at certain times of the year.

        Thank you for stopping by and for your (continued) support.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        18 months ago from Brazil

        Broccoli, oh where do I start. I will quite happily eat it raw but Hubs has to have it boiled. He doesn't believe it can be eaten raw.

        It is one of the few veg he will eat but now, here in Brazil it cost more per kilo than steak!

        I had a friend come and make it crisp tender in a frying pan topped with garlic, it was gorgeous. It is a very versatile veg.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, Happy New Year to you as well. I'm really quite surprised; I assumed that you would give broccoli a 'thumbs down'. Maybe if you use one of these recipes you can convince Bev to give broccoli one more try.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        18 months ago from Olympia, WA

        This is one of the few vegetables that I like more than Bev. LOL Believe me when I say one of the few...very few...maybe two...that's few. :) Happy New Year, Linda, and thank you for your friendship.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        18 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric - Happy New Year. Broccoli does not need to be cooked to provide the beneficial nutrients. In fact, in cooking some of them are reduced, so munch away on your raw broccoli.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Very cool. I needed this. My son and I love to sit around munching on cauliflower, broccoli and carrots with a hearty ranch dressing for one dip and sea salt for the other and mustard for my own. Sorry mom, we do not do it for health - we just like them.

        But here is my question Linda -- we like them raw but do not like them cooked. Are we getting the most good stuff out of them or do we have to cook them somewhat?

        Since we are a half Vietnamese home we will shoot for soup as a way to mix up our daily intake of Pho.


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