Exploring Broccoli: How to Change It From Loathsome to “Lovable”
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
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 antioxidants, 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.
- 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
- Melt butter in a 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.
- Working in batches, transfer soup to blender and purée until smooth.
- Return soup to the 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
- 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.
- Prepare the broccoli by cutting off the woody stems. Slice the remaining tender stems and broccoli florets into bite-size pieces.
- Drop the broccoli into the rapidly boiling water and then immediately remove and shock in the bowl filled with water and ice. Drain well.
- Combine prepared broccoli, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and pecans in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, and vinegar.
- Toss dressing with broccoli mixture.
- 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).
shredded Swiss cheese
Chopped fried pancetta
shaved Parmesan cheese
cooked diced chorizo
crumbled queso fresco
chopped smoked almonds
diced Granny Smith apple
Orecchiette With Broccoli
Orecchiette is Italian for "little ears", and that is just what these kinds of 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 ounces) 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
- Remove woody the 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).
- Drain well; spread out on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the oil.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 fishy-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.
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, like this broccoli pesto, with all of us on her blog.
Carb Diva's Broccoli Quiche
Quiche is usually rich and eggy—this one has all of the luxurious silkiness of eggs, but without the guilt. A tofu dish for those who vowed they would never eat tofu.
- 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. broccoli
- 1 lb. firm tofu, drained
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tsp. olive oil; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Place the broccoli pieces in a steamer basket. Steam over simmering water until very tender—about 8–10 minutes. Add to onion mixture and set aside.
- In blender or food processor, puree the tofu and remaining ingredients (milk through ground black pepper) until smooth. Add the broccoli and onions and process until smooth.
- Pour into pre-baked crust. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until quiche is set. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
© 2016 Linda Lum