[Brassica oleracea Group Italica]
Broccoli was probably known in Roman times, though it probably looked much more like today's Chinese Broccoli. It continued to be developed by growers to produce the large flower heads we know today. These heads are harvested and eaten well before maturity because they will open into yellow flowers and become mushy and bitter.
Like other cabbages, broccoli is high in fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants
and is suspected of significant anticancer benefits. The photo specimens were
about 5-1/2 inches across, 5-1/2 inches long and weighed 13 ounces. Broccoli
is often sold in narrower heads and/or with longer stems.
More on Cabbage Flowers.
Buying & Storage: Broccoli is found in every supermarket and produce market. Some produce markets sell it two ways - Broccoli (long stems) and Broccoli Crowns (short stems - at a higher price). The reason is that otherwise some people would break off the stems to reduce the weight they pay for. This way breaking off the stems automatically puts it in a higher price bracket.
Select broccoli heads that are very dark in color and firm, and the stems should be crisp and not at all rubbery. Flower heads may be dark green or have a bluish or purplish cast. Over aged broccoli will start to yellow, the flower heads will start to loosen and soften, and the flowers will start to open. At this point it will be bitter and cook mushy.
Broccoli leaves are very edible, but have generally been stripped off in the markets. The reason is, leaves yellow sooner than the flower heads and they want long shelf life. If any small ones are attached they can be cooked along with the florets. If you need leaves, use Chinese Broccoli (rappini / broccoli rabe is a turnip green).
Broccoli should be refrigerated in a loose plastic bag and should be used within one to five days depending on original condition.
Recipes can be ambiguous about how much broccoli to use. In general, if weight is given it should be taken as with no more stem than is seen in the photo at the top of this page.
Frozen Broccoli can be used for some recipes. It will generally have very little stem, but it's already lightly cooked, and it's higher in salt. Reduce the salt in your recipe a touch and cut your cooking time or you'll have mush.
Cooking: Because of the great difference in cooking time between stems and flowers, broccoli is usually broken or cut into florets. Thicker floret stems can be split lengthwise to equalize cooking time. The photo shows "small florets", the most commonly used size, prepared for cooking. Thicker stems can be cut into fairly narrow slivers if you want to use them, but very large stems need to be peeled first because the outer layer is fibrous.
The best way to cook broccoli is in a steamer. Placed over already boiling water, florets with short split stems should be tender in 5 to 7 minutes. If you are using slices of stem, give them about 2 minutes lead over the florets.
Acids: Lemon juice, vinegar and other acids will quickly dull the green color of broccoli, and the hotter it is the faster it will dull. If you use acid in a recipe it should be added after the broccoli is removed from the heat and it should then be served immediately.