I recently visited my son and his family in Florida, and at the christening party of his youngest son, I tried a delicious broccoli salad and a tasty broccoli dip. The American flavour palette is somewhat different to the English one, but I was still surprised how impressed I could be by a vegetable I use so regularly in my own cooking.
When I returned home to the UK the memory of those lovely dishes tempted me to do a bit of research on this crisp and crunchy vegetable. Besides finding out that there are tons of great reasons to love broccoli and to eat it more often, its history fascinated me too.
Although commonplace today, it took centuries for broccoli to gain its worldwide popularity. Take a quick tour with me through the history of the green floret:
- Broccoli has its roots in Italy, where it is called “Broccolo”. The word comes from the Latin word “brachium,” which means branch or arm, a reflection of the vegetable’s treelike shape.
- In ancient Roman times, broccoli made frequent appearances on the dinner plates of the Roman Empire. Roman farmers called broccoli “the five green fingers of Jupiter.”
- Catherine de Medici of Tuscany may have been the first to introduce broccoli to France when she married Henry II in 1533. Catherine arrived in France with her Italian chefs and armfuls of vegetables, including broccoli, but unfortunately it did not excite public taste.
- When broccoli arrived again in England in the early 18th century, it was referred to as “Italian asparagus.” Once more it did not gain popularity.
- Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was a fan of broccoli and imported broccoli seeds from Italy as early as May 1767. But despite being a popular president, his little green favourite it did not make its way to many kitchens.
- Brocolli finally got its big break when the D’Arrigos, two Italian brothers who immigrated to the United States along with their broccoli seeds, started a business selling the novelty vegetable to other Italian immigrants. They branded the broccoli with an image of one of the brothers infant son (Andy Boy), and sponsored a radio program with ads for their ‘superior’ vegetable. The plan worked, and by the 1930s the USA was having a love affair with broccoli. Most people were even convinced that broccoli was a newly developed plant!
Broccoli is a great veggie for almost any diet. It is reputed powerhouse of nutrients. Here are just some of the nutritional value this wonderful vegetable it reported to have:
- 160g grams of cooked broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange.
- If your potassium is low, you need an iron boost, would like more fibre in your diet, or want more vitamin A to keep your skin and eyes healthy, look no further than broccoli.
- This remarkable vegetable also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 magnesium, and zinc.
- Because of its impressive nutritional profile it is reputed to benefit digestion, eye health, the immune system and may be responsible for boosting certain enzymes that help to detoxify the body. These enzymes help to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure and help with cholesterol reduction.
- If you’re a calorie counter, count broccoli in! 160g grams of chopped and steamed broccoli has only 56 calories
Wrap your broccoli in a plastic bag and refrigerate. It is a great way to protect broccoli’s nutrients, especially the vitamin C, which is easily lost if not kept cold. Alternatively you can submerge the stem portions of a bunch of broccoli into a jug filled with ice cold water. Cover the broccoli crowns loosely with a plastic bag, and change the water daily. This will keep the bunch fresh and crisp for a whole week.
- To keep its brilliant green colour and its full nutrient, cook broccoli until just tender. An overcooked broccoli turns to an olive green colour, and losses some of its nourishment. It will also engulf your kitchen with the whiff of rotten eggs from the sulphur compounds that include ammonia and hydrogen sulfide released with long cooking.
- To preserve the bright colour of the broccoli during steaming, lift the cover several times during cooking to release steam.
- If your broccoli seems a bit tasteless, either it is not fresh or it has been grown in a soil that has been depleted in minerals. To bring up the flavour, sprinkle it with lemon juice, a bit of lemon zest and a touch of extra virgin olive oil.
Matching Herbs & Spices
This versatile vegetable served, steamed, roasted or stir fried usually tastes good. But paring it with the right herb or spice makes your serving of broccoli varied, tastier and healthier. Try these varieties to keep your broccoli dishes fresh:
- Chop broccoli into bite-size florets and stir-fry in a small amount of olive oil, about one teaspoon, combined with water or vegetable stock. Then toss in a bit of finely chopped sage, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic, marjoram or sprinkle of nutmeg.
- Turmeric adds a bit of a ginger flavour to broccoli. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan, sprinkle over ¼ teaspoon of turmeric and continue to cook for 30-40 seconds before adding 200g chopped broccoli florets .
- The other way to bring out your broccoli’s best side, flavour it with a dash of tamari, lemon or lime juice, or a touch of your favourite vinegar after cooking.
- For an Asian touch, add a tablespoon or two of sesame oil to the stir fry and sprinkle natural sesame seeds over broccoli as a garnish.
Here I would like to share two simple scrumptious recipes with you, of the dishes I had in Florida.