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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Broccoli - The Crown of all Veggies

From the fairly obscure, (last weeks roots rendition), to the more than common, (this weeks broccoli low down) Produce Profilers, stick with me and you'll get it all!

Broccoli (form the Latin bracchium, meaning branch) is one on the most popular items in the entire produce department. Although given its humble beginnings, no one would've thought that. Broccoli belongs to a very large family of cancer-fighting veggies in the cruciferous family. So named because all of these related veggies, as seedlings, sprout four leaves above ground in the form of a cross.

In this clan you will find cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and more. The multiple granddaddy of them all was probably a loose leaved wild cabbage. Originally from the Mediterranean and northern Europe, it resembled more of a modern day kale than anything else. How exactly one came from the other is above my pay grade, but suffice it to say that our modern day broccoli has been around for at least a couple of thousand years.

Things got rolling for broccoli when one Catherine de Medicis, an Italian royal, introduced broccoli into France from Italy in the mid-1500's. From there it traveled to England and elsewhere throughout Europe. But the truth is that no one except the Italians really took to it.

Broccoli seeds arrived with the colonists and none other than Thomas Jefferson planted this "new" veg at his extensive garden project at Monticello in the mid 1700's. But it would take a bunch of Italian immigrants to light the fire under American consumers to produce the demand we see today.

Back in the 1920's two brothers, Stephano and Andrea D'Arrigo began growing broccoli in the Santa Clara Valley. Most of their crop they sold locally, but some got shipped to Boston. By the 1930's the broccoli biz was booming. Their Andy Boy label, named after Stephano's two-year-old son, Andrew is still flourishing today.

California grows most of the US supply, either coming from the Salinas Valley, or like now, from the Imperial Valley which stretches from California and into Arizona. (The area is called "the desert" in produce circles). Coastal communities of Santa Maria and also Oxnard produce their fair share.

The most common broccoli is a Calabrese variety. This, and others like it, produce large heads and thinner stalks. Other types feature more leaf, stem and flower buds. Sometimes you'll find these at Farmer's Markets, but they are not grown for mass consumption. For the home gardeners in the crowd, these will be labeled often as "sprouting broccoli".

A close broccoli relative is broccoli raab, aka rapini. This has far thinner stems and lots more pointy shaped leaves. The flavor is bigger than regular broccoli, with a slightly bitter bite. I like cooking broccoli raab with sausage, onions and tomatoes. Cooking tones down the bitterness.

Broccoflower is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. It actually looks more like a pale green cauliflower. The supply of this is not as consistent as regular broccoli, but it gets popular with the veggie platter crowd. Think Super Bowl!!!

Broccolini, aka Aspiration is a cross between broccoli and gai lon, a Chinese broccoli. The stalks are very thin, more like asparagus and the small heads look more like a looser headed broccoli.

Romanesco broccoli looks like its from outer space. The cauliflower-like head is a golden green color but the head is actually made up of conical shaped florettes. Pretty pricey in the stores, it shows rather spectacularly.

When selecting broccoli look for tight, blue-green crowns and smaller, thinner stems. The crown is actually a massive clump of unopened, yellow flower buds, that open upon maturity. So lots of opened buds is actually screaming "I'm too old, take home that young whippersnapper over yonder." But don't be afraid of purple looking broccoli heads.

Sometimes it is a varietal thing and other times it has to do with cold temps in the field. In either case there is nothing wrong with the edible.If you are in the habit of tossing out the stem of this highly nutritious vegetable ... STOP! Make a New Year's resolution to eat it all! Just give it a pass or two with a vegetable peeler and you are all set. If you've ever tried any number of packaged "Broccoli Slaws" you are eating shredded broccoli stems.

Tell me I don't have to beat you to death over the nutritional qualities of this stuff. Broccoli is full of vitamin A and C with lots of iron and a dose or two of calcium and even potassium.

In other words, if you only eat ONE vegetable, make it broccoli.