(Brassica oleracea convar. botrytis var. italica— Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Broccoli, calabrese, sprouting broccoli
Although shopkeepers and customers have no trouble telling broccoli from cauliflower, botanists, on the other hand, cannot seem to distinguish the two.
Like cauliflower, broccoli is a member of the cabbage family in which flowers have begun to form, but have stopped growing while still in the bud.
With cauliflower, the buds are clustered tightly together to form the familiar white head; but, in broccoli, they form separate groups, with each group on its own thick, fleshy stalk.
There are three categories to broccoli. One is the Sprouting Broccoli, which is ready to eat in the spring after overwintering. It may have green, purple, yellow, or white flower heads.
Another is Romanesco, which matures later in the year and displays yellowish-green, with spirals that form multiple, pointed heads that group together.
The main category is Calabrese, which is an annual harvested in summer. The heads can be green or purple and takes its name from the Italian meaning, “from Calabria”. Calabrese should be eaten before the buds turn yellow and flowers emerge. This delicious vegetable was introduced to France by Catherine de Medici in 1560, and spread from there to the rest of Europe.
Broccoli is thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean. Purple sprouting broccoli is the original ancestor and was used throughout Europe until the green Italian variety swept the continent. The purple does turn green when cooked
Early forms were highly prized by the Romans, and Pliny described them in the 1st century CE. Broccoli spread to northern Europe and arrived in England in the 18th century. A 1724 gardener’s book in called it “sprout colli-flower” and “Italian asparagus”, and said to be new to England “within these last five years”.
Green broccoli was first mentioned in North American literature in 1806, but was certainly cultivated long before that. It is thought that early Italian settlers introduced it to the New York and Boston area. Technically, the word “broccoli” exists only in America.
In Italy, the word means “little sprouts” and has been used for centuries to describe, among other things, sprouts on cabbages and cauliflowers left in the field. It is not clear when, what the term “broccoli” was introduced into cultivation because the word was used to described several vegetables, which makes distinctions hazy at best.
Although broccoli and cauliflower may be very closely related botanically, their nutritional content is quite different. Broccoli is superior to cauliflower in that it contains 60% more Vitamin C and 60 times more carotene
Broccoli is a good source of vitamins C. Depending on how it is cooked, ounce for ounce, cooked broccoli has 125% as much Vitamin C than a fresh orange. It also contains vitamin A from the yellow carotenoids hidden under the chlorophyll, some iron and vitamins E and K.
Almost half of the calories come from the incomplete plant proteins. Broccoli is also a good source of calcium ,having as much as milk; although the form found in broccoli is easier to digest. The dark green leaves attached to the heads are very nutritious and flavourful and can be used in stir fry, soups, or in a mixed vegetable dish.
Broccoli is one of the few vegetables to skyrocket in popularity in recent years, mainly because of announcements by medical research groups that eating such cruciferous vegetables as broccoli helps significantly to reduce the risk of cancers.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli also contains mustard oils called isothiocyanates, natural chemicals that break down into a variety of smelly sulfur compounds, including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, when cooked. This action becomes more intense if aluminum cookware is used.
The odour can be cut down by cooking the vegetable quickly, which also preserves the nutrients. Broccoli that has been stored too long converts its sugar into fiber. This is the reason that winter broccoli is never as sweet as the summer-fresh ones.
Cooking broccoli (or any vegetable) in large amounts of water causes a greater loss of Vitamin C and other water-soluble vitamins. It will also lose larger amounts if the water is cold when the cooking process begins.
This loss can be dramatically reduced by allowing the water to boil for sixty seconds before adding the vegetable, then cooking only until just tender, leaving a little crunch. Cooking any longer results in a lifeless, dull, mushy, unappetizing offering, and is generally the reason so many hate their vegetables.
However, it may be necessary to presoak broccoli in salt water for about fifteen minutes to rid any bugs that may be hiding in its tightly packed flowerets.
According to researchers at Cornell University, blanching broccoli in a microwave oven in preparation for freezing, (2 c. broccoli in 3 tbsp. water for 3 min. at 600-700 watts) nearly doubled the retention of Vitamin C. Frozen broccoli cooked in a microwave kept 90% of its Vitamin C compared to 56% for broccoli cooked in a pot of boiling water on top of a stove.
Old varieties of perennial broccoli are still available, and one outstanding variety of that type is the Nine Star
which produces small white, multi-heads. Cropping improves if unused heads are removed before they go to seed.
are hardier than the white, which have a better taste, but tend to be less productive. Some varieties are: Christmas Purple Sprouting, Purple Sprouting, Purple Sprouting Early, Purple Sprouting Late, White Sprouting, White Sprouting Early, and White Sprouting Late.
is also known as American, Italian, or green sprouting broccoli, which produces a large central flowerhead surrounded by smaller sideshoots, which develop after the main head has been harvested.
Some varieties include Broccoletto, Citation, Early Emeral Hybrid, Green Comet, Green Sprouting (an old Italian variety), Mercedes (has blue-green stems with large flat heads), Ramoso (DeCicco) (an old Italian variety), and Romanesco (has lime-green florets which are steamed and served like asparagus).
Caution: All cruciferous vegetables contain goitrin, thiocyanate, and isothiocyanate, which are collectively known as goitrogens. These chemicals inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones, causing the organ to enlarge in an effort to produce more of these hormones. This is not a hazardous situation for healthy people, but may pose a problem for those who have a thyroid condition or who are taking thyroid medication.
Broccolini, Asparation, baby broccoli, mini broccoli
is a hybrid of Brassica oleracea, Botrytis group and of the Alboglabra group. It requires no trimming and cooks in minutes. The flavour is mild, without the cabbagey tone.
Although the plant can grow quite large, only the side shoots are harvested; therefore, it does not form into one large head with a thick stalk, but rather into individual stems with a looser flowering top.
Asparation is the seed name and an invention by the Sakata Seed Company based in Yokohama, and has made numerous valuable introductions in the US. Because the plant’s lineage is more than three-quarters broccoli, it is officially registered as such.
The remaining one-quarter is derived from various, and confusing, names like Chinese broccoli (Chinese kale or gai lan), which gives it its crunch and special sweetness.
Since broccolini must be harvested by hand, it is more expensive. In addition, it is an unusually sensitive crop to grow. If it does not obtain everything it needs during the growing season, it may look fine when harvested, but will not be tender and delicious.
Broccoli Romanesco, Romanesco cauliflower, Roman broccoli, broccoflower, Cauli-broc (Brassica oleraceae, Botrytis Group)
This type of broccoli looks like a mix between broccoli and cauliflower. It has the appearance of cauliflower, only green. It is, however, different from the green cauliflowers that appear from time to time.
Broccoflower is a widely marketed brand name for Alverda or Brocoverde cultivars and crosses close to the regular cauliflower form. Broccoflower originated with a green cauliflower grown in the Macerata area of Italy, and is definitely not a broccoli-cauliflower cross that is so often written.
It is difficult to grow outside its home turf of the Mediterranean coast, roughly from Rome to Naples, and is just one of many similar strains.
It is a spectacular creation, with a conical chartreuse head arranged in turrets, suggesting a starfish, or seashell, design. On the Adriatic coast, there is another type called the Jesi,
which has white or creamy curds with the spiral shape of the Romanesco. This one is usually labeled as a cauliflower (Cavolfiore), while the Romanesco is labeled as a sprouted cabbage (Cavolo Broccolo).
The flavour of the Romanesco is considerably more subtle, with a more elegant form and also having a nuttier and nubby texture. Broccoflower varieties tend to be mellow and attractive when fresh, but more cabbagey when not.
Broccoli Raab, rapini, ruvo kale, turnip broccoli, Italian turnip, broccoli rape, brocoletto, rapa, raab, cime di rapa/broccoletti/broccoletti di rape (Italian) (Brassica rapa var. cymosa – Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Broccoli raab is another group of greens with “broccoli” attached to it. Resembling both the turnip and broccoli, it leans more toward broccoli in appearance, except with very slender stalks, more leaves, and with small clusters of tiny green buds instead of having one large head.
In flavour, raab is more closely related to the turnip, having the bitter blast of mustard, and taking longer to put down roots than broccoli.
Raab descended from a wild herb which grows in the Mediterranean. Today it is still cultivated in that region, including the Italian provinces of Campania and Puglia, as well as in the US, but rarely available elsewhere.
It seems to have originated with the Italians. In 1927, the D’Arrigo brothers became intrigued with the idea of marketing a new vegetable along the lines of their familiar broccoli. They had found the wild plant growing all over California fields and remembered it from Italy. They began a breeding program in the 1930s, and ultimately developed varieties with juicy stalks, many buds, and small leaves.
This proved to be more appealing to Americans than the Italian type, which was more like a turnip top, leafy, rough, and bitter. The entire plant is edible: stems, leaves, and buds. The name rapa means turnip, and cime di rapa means turnip top. It is a wonderful accompaniment to garlic dishes, especially pasta. Although available all year round, it is at its best during the cool seasons.
Rapini can be cooked in any manner of ways, but the secret is to do it quickly as it needs only about two to five minutes. Any longer, it will turn into an army of green, soggy, mass. Keep the lid off during cooking to prevent it from darkening, and if adding anything acidic to rapini, do so at the last minute to prevent it from turning colour. It is better eaten raw and adds a spunky flavour to salads.
Raab can be added to any number of recipes or eaten alone as a side dish. It is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, as well as of fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It is low in sodium and calories, and contains such beneficial phytochemicals as indoles and sulforaphanes, which help protect the heart, lungs, and intestines.
Chinese broccoli, Chinese kale, flowering broccoli, early kailaan, gaai laan/gai lan, gai lum, kaii laan (and other Chinese variations) (Brassica alboglabra – Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Chinese broccoli is not a true broccoli or kale, nor is it from China. It is a separate species of plant having all these special qualities: broccoli, kale, and Chinese parentage.
It probably originated in the Mediterranean, sharing a common ancestry with the European calabrese or broccoli. Botanically, it is very close to the Portuguese Tronchuda cabbage
and was introduced to China in ancient times. Uncommon outside of China, it did manage to find its way elsewhere as Chinese immigrants landed on foreign soil.
It grows to a height of three feet, is non-heading, but forms strong stems and flowers like broccoli which are usually white and not yellow. It is an everyday vegetable throughout Asia and cultivated on a large scale, but it is also available in the West.
Chinese broccoli is cultivated first and foremost for its fleshy stems, although both the young leaves and the flowers can be eaten, providing they have not yet opened. The leaves are coarse, blue-green and coated with a waxy bloom. The plant is harvested either by cutting it at soil level or by allowing it to continue growing and just harvesting the side shoots.