The name's Broccoli – James Broccoli, and I'm licensed to heal. Yes, that's right, I'm one of the world's most powerful agents in the silent war against that arch villain – Cancer. I may be cunningly disguised as a tasty vegetable, but behind my appealing flavour lies an army of nutrients ready to protect you against our common foe.
Let me tell you more about how I can help you. I belong to the brassica family and am closely related to the cabbage. As you know I have a distinct appearance – when cut I look like a small, dense tree with greeny-white branches ending in clumps of small, rounded and tightly packed blue-green to green flower buds.
My fellow broccoli heads and I can range in colour from dark green to purplish green. We have a delicious flavour and if everyone on the planet ate broccoli, we'd wipe out hunger, disease and bad jokes about the brassica family!
Unlike those wimpy summer vegies we're at our best in the winter months.
In Australia we're not sold by variety.
We can either be grown from seed (which is sown directly into the soil) or more popularly from seedlings. We're a very strong growing plant (about 75-100cm) with large spreading bluey-green leaves.
Our stem ends in a compact head or mass of developing bluey-green to green flower buds, each head being 9-12cm wide. Below the main head many side shoots grow and have much smaller flower clusters (2.5-7cm). Both the main head and the group of flower buds on the side shoots are harvested.
We're harvested when the flower buds are closed and compact with no yellowing buds or flowers evident. Heads are removed with about 10-15cm of stem attached. When the main head is cut, new shoots with smaller heads form, so a single plant will keep producing for many weeks.
It's essential that we're cooled as soon as possible after harvest otherwise small yellow flower heads will develop rapidly, which are bitter in taste. Often you may see boxes of us arriving into the green grocers covered in ice to prevent us from maturing further.
To pick the best of us select fresh, bright-green heads which have compact clusters of tightly closed flowerets. Stalks and stem leaves should be tender yet firm. Avoid any with yellowing flowerets and thick, woody stems.
Keep us dry. Store us in a vented plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
We come from the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor and spread to Italy in the 16th century. From there we travelled to northern Europe during the 17th century and we were introduced into England in the early 18th century.
Siberian broccoli, a small, hardy, purple member of our family was planted at Norfolk Island in 1788. Throughout the 19th century, purple and green varieties were available in Australia but we were not as popular as ordinary cabbage. It wasn't until the influx of Italian immigrants in the first half of this century that we became more fully appreciated.
We can be cooked whole or broken into ‘flowerets' also called ‘florets'. Cut off the end of the stem and peel any tough outer layer remaining. Cut through thick stems to allow more even cooking.
Steam, boil, pan-fry or microwave tops and stems until just tender but crisp to maintain the bright green colour, about 3-6 minutes. Serve as a vegetable, in stir-fries, salads, crepes, casseroles, soups, omelettes or with dips.
Some delicious broccoli recipes to try:
Heat 1 cup sour cream with minced garlic, shallots and 1/2 cup each of Parmesan cheese and blue vein cheese. Add cooked broccoli flowerets and thinly sliced red capsicum. Heat through. Serve over spaghetti noodles with chopped parsley.
Broccoli And Apple Soup
Saute 1 grated green apple and 1 thinly sliced onion until soft. Add broccoli flowerets and 1 litre of chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Puree and serve with a spoonful of yoghurt or sour cream, chopped tarragon and grated black pepper.
Garlic Broccoli And Snow Peas
Break 500g broccoli into flowerets and thinly slice stems. Cook in boiling salted (optional) water for 4-5 minutes until slightly undercooked. Drain. Pan-fry 2 cloves finely chopped garlic and 1/4 cup pine nuts in olive oil. Remove and saute 100g snow peas for 2 minutes. Add broccoli and nuts and mix. Serve hot.