ALL ABOUT BROCCOLI

Jan 20, 14 ALL ABOUT BROCCOLI

With recipes for

Remember when President George Bush the First in 1990 announced his dislike of broccoli – in favor of such nutritious wonders as Butterfingers candy bars and pork rinds? Broccoli immediately came under scrutiny. The broccoli growers of America sent the White House cases of the stuff (which the President promptly donated to a good cause). Television commentators talked about broccoli. Comedians made jokes about it. And food editors wrote stories about broccoli.

Suddenly we realized two things. First, despite Mr. Bush’s disdain, broccoli was and remains one of America’s favorite vegetables, ranking eighth in a 1995 Produce Marketing Association list of the best selling vegetables sold in supermarkets.

broccoli from donna_mh on flickr Second, many Americans who ate broccoli simply because they liked it, or because their mother told them to, found out that broccoli is one of the most nutritious of all vegetables. As Jean Carper put it in “Food – Your Miracle Medicine” (HarperCollins, 1992), broccoli is “A spectacular and unique package of versatile disease fighters.”

But as a member of the cruciferous family, broccoli contains sulfurous compounds that can emit odors that are off-putting to many people. So scientists have been busy at work trying to come up with products that use broccoli for its nutrients but not its flavor, such as sweetened broccoli-based vegetable juices and broccoli flavored salsa. Ugh!

Broccoli is just fine the way it is. Don’t overcook it or it will stink up the joint. And don’t undercook it because, well, because raw or undercooked broccoli just doesn’t taste very good.

And to former President George Bush we say: Even if you have to sprinkle it with crushed pork rinds or candy bars, eat your broccoli!

HISTORY

We can thank the Italians for many things, and broccoli is one of them. Broccoli has been a favorite in Italy since the days of ancient Rome. And it remained largely an Italian vegetable until the 16th century when it was introduced into France, then later to England.

Italian immigrants carried their love of broccoli to the United States and raised it in their home gardens. It stayed mainly in that ethnic community until the 1927 when the D’Arrigo family, Italian-American farmers in the Santa Clara Valley of northern California, started shipping broccoli East under the Andy Boy label, a brand that is still used today. It was an immediate success. By the early 1930s, broccoli had taken its place as a vegetable commodity. Steve D’Arrigo tells us that when he got into the family business in 1948 there were only five broccoli growers. Today there are over 220.

broccoli from chiot's run on flickrThe word broccoli comes from the Latin word brachium for arm or branch. Early settlers in the United States apparently knew it as brockala. And Italian-Americans often referred to it as broccali.

WHERE GROWN

California produces about 95 percent of the broccoli grown commercially in the United States. Arizona is the No. 2 producer, followed by Washington and Maine. Mexico exports to the United States about as much broccoli as Arizona produces, Canada about as much as Washington.

VARIETIES

The Calabrese is the primary commercial variety of broccoli, named for the Italian province of Calabria. Others are the Patriot, Marathon, Green Belt, Arcadia, Green Duke, Emperor, Cruiser, 458, Shogun and Premium. Packaged broccoli cuts are also 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 frys 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.

SEASONS

Broccoli is a year round vegetable, though there may be less availability in the summer months when quality may also wane due to the heat. The peak period for broccoli is January through March.

SELECTION, HANDLING & STORAGE

Fresh and well kept broccoli will have a firm head with compact clusters. The clusters should be dark green and may have purple highlights. Leaves should be crisp. Yellowed clusters or yellow flowers showing on the inside are signs of poor quality. Avoid bunches with stems that are thick and tough, or broccoli that has a strong smell. It should smell clean and fresh.

Store broccoli in the vegetable crisper for up to three days.

broccoli from travis s. on flickrNUTRITION

If there is a more healthful vegetable than broccoli, I don’t know it. A serving of 1 medium stalk (148 grams, about 5 ounces) contains 50 calories, .5 grams of fat, 4 grams each of fiber and protein, and 9 grams of carbohydrates. You can get 200% of the RDA for vitamin C in a serving, 10% for vitamin A, 6% for calcium and 4% for iron.

That’s just for starters. As a member of the cruciferous family, broccoli has enormous cancer-fighting properties. It is loaded with antioxidants such as beta carotene and folic acid as well as lutein, a lesser known antioxidant that some scientists think may be as strong a cancer inhibitor as beta carotene. Broccoli’s high fiber helps keep cholesterol in check. It has anti-viral and anti-ulcer properties. And it helps regulate insulin and blood sugar.

Message: Take three broccoli spears and call us in the morning.

YIELD

A good sized bunch of broccoli weighs about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and should serve four as a side vegetable, more if combined with other ingredients. One pound of broccoli yields about 2 cups chopped.

PREPARATION

Separate the florets from the stalk by cutting off the florets where they naturally attach to the stalk. Peel the stalk and cut into thin rounds or match sticks. Generally it’s not necessary to peel the base of the florets. By cutting the stalk into small enough pieces, it will cook in about the same time as the florets. Otherwise you should start cooking the stem pieces a few minutes before you add the florets.

As with many vegetables, nutrients are best preserved with microwave cooking. But I prefer steaming. (Call me old-fashioned.) A head of broccoli cut into pieces will cook by boiling in about 5 minutes, steaming about 7 or 8 minutes and microwaving about 5 minutes.

As with most green vegetables, keeping cooking time to a maximum of seven minutes and refreshing the broccoli in ice water – if you’re not using it right away or are making a cold presentation – helps to maintain the bright green color.

Broccoli, like its cousin broccoli raab, goes well in Italian preparations such as pasta dishes, beans, potatoes and polenta – and with garlic, olive oil, olives, balsamic vinegar, anchovies and pork meats such as sausage and pancetta. Broccoli also works nicely with freshly grated nutmeg.