For years, we’ve been told that green vegetables are essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet, and few are more beloved than broccoli. A member of the cabbage family, broccoli packs a nutritious punch in every bite, including anti-cancer, antioxidant, cardiovascular and digestive health benefits. Particularly high in vitamins A, C and K, and with 20 grams of fiber per one-cup serving, broccoli is a quick and easy way to boost the nutritional profile of just about any dish. With its thick stalk and tufts of vibrant green florets, both children and adults alike can appreciate the versatile taste and texture of broccoli.
The name broccoli has Latin roots, and comes from the Italian plural for “flowering cabbage sprout,” or broccolo. Broccoli is believed to have originated in Italy, where it evolved from wild cabbage and other hearty greens, and was cultivated by the Ancient Romans as far back as 600 B.C. There are records of broccoli plants and farming in the U.S. as far back as the late 1700s, when Thomas Jefferson, an avid gardener, experimented with broccoli seeds imported from Italy. However, it wasn’t until a wave of Italian immigrants arrived in the 1920s that broccoli was considered a mainstream vegetable in the U.S. Since then, broccoli has become a family favorite in American kitchens, tripling in consumption in the last 30 years from an average of 1.4 pounds annually per person to 5.6 pounds. Much of this growth in popularity comes from the versatility of broccoli, making it a go-to selection for a wide variety of cuisines and dishes – from raw crudité with vegetable dip to Chinese-influenced stir-fries.
When selecting the perfect “tree,” look for a deep, emerald green head with tightly clustered florets and sturdy green leaves. Deeper green heads that are nearly purple in color are great as well, but avoid those with yellowing or flowering buds. Keep broccoli unwashed in an airtight plastic bag for up to four days in the refrigerator.
Once you’re ready to cook broccoli, just the leaves need to be trimmed, as the stalks are edible. If there’s a thin, tough layer, simply use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove. The key to preparing broccoli is to avoid overcooking, as the vegetable is at its best when either raw or just crisptender. Also remember that the florets will cook more quickly than the stalks. The stalks can be split lengthwise to the head to allow for even cooking. Given its versatility, broccoli can be cooked in many ways. Steaming or simmering in a little water helps retain nutrients and health benefits while also preserving the vibrant green hue. Roasting broccoli brings out a slightly nutty and sweet flavor, while enjoying it raw is always a good option.
No matter how you slice, dice, prepare and serve it, beautiful, bellisimo broccoli will always be a healthy and delicious choice.