Thanks to its myriad nutritional benefits, broccoli has been regarded a “health food” since the Roman Empire. It is also one of the world’s most controversial vegetables, not only because of the strong smell and bitter flavor that results from overcooking, but also due to racial profiling against the Italian immigrants who brought it to the United States. But thanks to the growing movement toward healthy eating, broccoli is now commonly cited as a favorite vegetable among children as well as adults.
Native to the Mediterranean, it is believed that broccoli was cultivated from a wild cabbage by the early inhabitants of modern Italy. Prized throughout the Roman Empire, broccoli was being commercially grown throughout Europe by the 1500s, and was introduced to England in the 18th century under the name “Italian asparagus.” Thomas Jefferson brought broccoli seeds back from his travels in Italy to grow at his Monticello estate, but the vegetable did not become widespread in the United States until Italian immigrants reintroduced it in the 1920s. Thanks to a major push for healthy eating in the 1970s, the consumption of fresh broccoli has quadrupled in North America
Broccoli boasts one of the vegetable world’s most impressive nutrition profiles, with a high concentration of vitamin C as well as vitamin A and B6, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. It also contains an abundance of phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as an unusually high amount of protein for a vegetable.
Loosely wrap broccoli head/stems in a damp paper towel, and store unbagged in the refrigerator crisper for up to 3 days. Alternatively, place broccoli stem side down in a glass of water, and store in the back of the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The key to preparing broccoli is to cook quickly over high heat. Roasting with olive oil and garlic is a perfect way to bring out the sweetness and crispy texture of broccoli florets. Thinly sliced and lightly steamed broccoli can be added to sandwiches or wraps; it’s also a great way to lighten up rich pasta dishes like fettuccine alfredo or carbonara. Broccoli pairs beautifully with cheddar cheese in soups, egg dishes, and casseroles, and combines well with salty, sour flavors in Asian recipes. It can even be substituted for other greens in juices, smoothies, and pesto.
Chop broccoli into florets, toss with olive oil, pressed garlic and salt, and roast at 425 degrees until charred. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Press a clove of garlic into a bowl of ricotta cheese, mix, and spread over toasted slices of crusty bread. Top with roasted broccoli, drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Rather than discarding broccoli stems, use them to add nutrition and flavor to vegetable stock. They can also be fermented into pickles or kimchi, grated and added as a topping to sandwiches, baked potatoes or quesadillas, or cut into sticks for crudités.