By Mark MulcahyItalians selected and bred broccoli, creating the three main types still grown today: Calabrese, Romanesco and Sprouting
Have you ever eaten Italian Asparagus
? I’ll bet you have! And probably quite often, unless you are a former president who just didn’t like it. That’s right, I’m talking about broccoli
, but back in the day it had another name. Enamored with its tender shoots, Italian gardeners developed broccoli from its origins as a form of cabbage. In 1724, Miller’s Garden Dictionary aptly described broccoli as Italian asparagus. Italians selected and bred broccoli, creating the three main types still grown today: Calabrese, Romanesco and Sprouting. Calabrese types are the mainstay of commercial production the world over, while Romanesco and Sprouting remain specialty varieties. It was Italian market gardeners that settled in the San Francisco area that first introduced broccoli to the U.S.
A sturdy plant that enjoys cool weather and repels raindrops with its thick leaves and tightly compact heads, broccoli grows year round in regions where it doesn’t get too hot. A hardy feeder that requires lots of compost from the organic grower, broccoli grows best in deep loamy soils. The Salinas Valley in California has these conditions, making it the broccoli capital of the U.S. Harvested by hand and packed in the field, broccoli receives cool water showers and forced air cooling before being topped with crushed ice and moved to the cooler - where it may stay for up to a month before it is sold and transported. Remarkably, even after this, it is still alive and nutritious.
One of the best food buys around, Melissa’s organic broccoli is vitamin rich, high in fiber and anti-cancer agents. Calcium, folate and iron content make it a particularly good choice for expecting moms. Sulforaphane and chemicals known as indoles make broccoli an important food in cancer prevention, especially those at risk for colon or lung cancer. If you want to get the most nutritional bang for your broccoli buck do not overcook it or you’ll lose many of its valuable benefits. Better yet, chop some up raw for your salad or add it to a snack plate with carrot sticks and hummus.
When you are at the store, choose Melissa’s organic broccoli that is heavy for it’s bunch size heads with tight, green florets and firm stalks. When you get it home, store it unwashed in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator. When bought fresh, it will keep for up to 10 days in your refrigerator at home. Rinse Melissa’s organic broccoli just before using it, as washing before storing will only make it break down faster.
For most preparations, you'll want to cut off the florets from the stem or stalk for even cooking but don’t toss the stem. If you take the time to cut off or peel its tough exterior, and slice into slender rounds, you'll discover a crunchy, delicious, tender treat that will cook up great with the florets or work really well on a dip plate with cucumbers and peppers. One of my favorite ways to prepare Melissa’s organic broccoli is to roast it. Roasting creates a nice crispy floret and brings out the broccoli’s natural sweetness. If you have roasted before, try this recipe I adapted from the Food Network.
4 to 5 pounds of Melissa’s Organic Broccoli
4 Garlic Cloves
, peeled and thinly sliced
Good Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1½ teaspoons Kosher Salt
½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Grated Lemon
2 tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
3 tablespoons Pine Nuts
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese mixture
2 tablespoons Fresh Basil Leaves
(about 12 leaves), julienned
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Cut the broccoli florets from the thick stalks, leaving an inch or two of stalk attached to the florets, (place the rest of the stalks aside to use later as mentioned above) and slice into slender florets.
- Cut the larger pieces through the base of the head with a small knife, pulling the florets apart. You should have about 8 cups of florets.
- Place the garlic and broccoli in a bowl and drizzle with 5 tablespoons olive oil. Toss until coated.
- Place the Melissa’s organic broccoli florets and garlic on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.
- Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
- Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned.
- Remove the broccoli from the oven and immediately toss with 1½ tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice, pine nuts, cheese and basil. Serve hot.
Mmmm, mmmm if you are like me you will want to make extra because once you start you’ll find you can eat a lot of these tasty, toasty florets.