Hearts and flowers.
“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” proclaimed the 41st President of the United States George H.W. Bush. Let me restore the glowing reputation of this glorious green and suggest some delicious ways to enjoy it.
Broccoli is part of the brassica family of vegetables (also known as cruciferous vegetables) that includes cabbage and Brussels sprouts. It has been around since Roman times and still popular in Italy; the name comes from the Italian word broccoli meaning the flowering crest of a cabbage. We eat the large flowering head of the plant. Broccolini is a newer incarnation with long slender stems and smaller heads, and also known as sprouting broccoli – they are nutritionally the same. They all contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals including sulforaphane. Broccoli is also a good source of the B vitamin folate for a healthy heart, vitamin C for immunity and fibre for digestive health. And as with other vegetables, it is low in calories/kilojoules.
To retain its nutritional goodness and “fight-o-chemical” power, cook broccoli as lightly as possible – do not boil. As with all vegetables, broccoli can be lightly steamed or microwaved and dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil and perhaps lemon juice, pepper, chili, or herbs of your choice. For an Asian direction, try soy, honey and sesame seeds. Take care not to overcook and leave some crispness and the rich green colour. To ensure the stems cook through before the florets go mushy, cut a cross into the base of the stem with a small sharp knife to quicken cooking. For added delight, sprinkle over slivered almonds (or any nut really) that have been gently toasted. Broccoli is a natural choice for a stir-fry because the short cooking time retains colour and texture – the mouth feel is a fantastic contrast to the chewiness of meat, the slipperiness of noodles or crunch of cashews, for example. And broccoli adds good textural variety in curries too, such as Thai style tofu and vegetable curry.
“Little green trees” as children often call broccoli florets, are perfect paired with pasta of any kind, and go just as beautifully with freshness of lemon and parsley, the creaminess of cheese or intensity of roasted tomato. Broccoli is also delicious in a frittata, either on its own or partnered with the omega-3 goodness and protein power of salmon, fresh or canned. Broccoli soup can also be super-easy: just blend cooked broccoli with stock and a little parmesan (or stinky blue cheese) for added flavour. You could say it was the hot equivalent of a green smoothie! And yes, you can even add kale if you must. Broccoli is also lovely in cold salads but again, only cook briefly so it retains texture, colour and flavor. Try it with lentils, chickpeas or butter beans as well as baby spinach and blanched green beans.
In the name of “taste it, don’t waste it”, eat the broccoli stems as well as the florets. Create tender stem pieces by slicing off the outer skin and cooking as usual. Another trick is to grate the stems and add it to pasta sauce, curries, meatloaf or slaw. A simply delicious idea is to combine grated broccoli stem with canned fish, crushed garlic, lemon juice, parsley and extra virgin olive oil and toss through spaghetti cooked al dente (“to the tooth”, meaning a bit chewy). And another tip to reduce waste is only to cook enough for the meal as all cruciferous vegetables develop stronger unpleasant bitter flavours when reheated.
Sure it’s nice to receive flowers, but I’d rather eat mine.