The key to capturing broccoli at its sweetest is to take it out of the field or garden before the weather warms too much and get onto the table right away.
The young emerald-green florets of broccoli can be served raw dressed with vinaigrette or accompanied by a dipping sauce.
Mature broccoli—both the budded flowers and stems–can be boiled or steamed and eaten cold as a salad or hot as a side dish.
The peak season for broccoli is early fall through early spring. Cool weather sweetens the taste of broccoli so for the best flavor broccoli should come to the table before the weather warms.
Broccoli is a hardy biennial grown as an annual. The tight clusters of tiny blue-green flower buds that grow at the stalk ends can be eaten raw or cooked. The stems are usually cooked.
Broccoli is usually green but can be also white or purple. The plant grows 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) tall with a central stalk that grows to 36 inches (90 cm) high.
Broccoli is always harvested before its buds open to yellow flowers. The plant’s stems and leaves are also edible.
Broccoli is also sometimes called spouting broccoli, Italian broccoli, Calabrese, and brocks.
Calabrese or sprouting broccoli is actually a variety of broccoli with large, tightly packed blue-green flowers. The flower head of Calabrese is larger than other broccoli. Calabrese is named after the town of Calabria in Italy.
Broccoli Romanesco—sometimes called romanesco or broccoflower—is not all broccoli but a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Romanesco has a distinctive yellow-green pointed spiral cone-like flower that is edible. Its flavor is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower.
Choose: Select broccoli with tightly closed, compact bud clusters and an even deep green color. The stems should be a lighter green than the buds.
Avoid broccoli with large, thick, whitish stalks. They will be tough, woody, and strong tasting. Avoid yellowing or wilted stems or leaves.
When broccoli heads begin to form dots of yellow, the plant is about to flower and should be harvested right away.
Store: Refrigerate broccoli unwashed in an airtight bag for up to 4 days. Broccoli can be frozen for up to 3 months after it has been blanched.
Prepare: Soak broccoli in salted water or vinegar for 10 minutes to dislodge any insects. Remove tough leaves and wash the florets in cold water before eating or cooking. If you plan to cook the stalks, trim the butt end first and then peel the stalks before cooking.
Cooking: The flower heads cook more quickly than the stalks. To cook the stalks evenly, split the stalks lengthwise in halves or quarters and slice them all the way up to but not through the flower head.
The heads can be cooked whole or if they are too large they can be separated into florets for even cooking.
Cook broccoli immediately after picking in boiling salted water for 10 minutes or steam by standing upright in 2 inches of gently boiling water for 15 minutes with the pan covered. After cooking drain carefully and serve hot.
Serve: Broccoli can be served raw as an appetizer with a dressing or cut up on a salad. Break up raw flowerets into a salad or serve them with a dipping sauce or vinaigrette.
Broccoli can be boiled, steamed, stir-fried, or cooked in a microwave. Allow 10 to 15 minutes when boiling or steaming whole broccoli. Add a bit of sugar during cooking to help it stay green.
Cooked broccoli is good warm or cold when still slightly firm or crunchy.
Cooked broccoli can be served with cheese, béchamel, Mornay, béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce, au gratin, or in casseroles, or with melted butter or puréed.
Add broccoli to soups, stews, omelets, soufflés, quiches, and pasta.
Create broccoli slaw with peeled and shredded stalks.
Flavor partners: Broccoli has a flavor affinity for anchovy, balsamic vinegar, butter, cheese, chicken, chiles, garlic, lemon pasta, and sausage.
Nutrition: Broccoli is rich in vitamins A and C and is a good source of potassium and fiber. One large broccoli stalk contains 32 calories.
Broccoli facts and trivia. Broccoli is one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. It got its start on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and in southern Italy. The ancient Greeks and Roman were eating broccoli 2,000 years ago.
The word broccoli is a corruption of the Latin brachium which means “strong arm” or “branch” a reference to the plant’s stout stems and tree-like resemblance.
From Italy, broccoli spread to Northern Europe. Catherine de Medici introduced broccoli to French cusine when she became the queen of France in the mid-sixteenth century.
Thomas Jefferson brought broccoli seeds from Italy to Monticello, but broccoli did not catch on in the United States until the 1920s when the vegetable growing D’Arrigo brothers of Northern California’s Santa Clara Valley started advertising broccoli on national radio.
The botanical name for broccoli is Brassica oleracea var. italica.