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General Description: Broccoli (Brassica oleracea, Cymosa group) is a deep emerald green vegetable that is part of the huge Brassica family. Broccoli’s name comes from the Italian for “little arms.” Broccoli is harvested before its flower buds open. America still raises mostly green broccoli, while purple, green, or white flower heads may be found elsewhere. The main variety of broccoli grown in the U.S. is Calabrese, which goes by that name in Britain.

Broccoflower is a hybrid mix of cauliflower and broccoli. The florets are light, bright green and packed into a round head like cauliflower. Its flavor and use are somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower. Broccoli Romanesco, common around Rome and starting to come into the U.S. market, matures later in the year and displays distinctive yellow-green pointed spiral cones. Like broccoflower, its flavor and use are somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower.

Broccoli rabe is a nonheading broccoli-like vegetable, also known as broccoletti di rape, broccoletto, and cima di rapa, which resembles broccoli florets on long, thin stems. Prized in southern Italy and increasingly well-known in the United States, it has a bitter but zesty flavor and intense green color. It is similar to rapini, but rapini has fewer florets and a flavor more similar to mustard greens.

Chinese broccoli has broad, glossy, blue-green leaves with long, crisp, thick stems and a small head. Its flavor is similar to, though juicier and more tender than, Calabrese broccoli.

Broccolini (or Asparation) is a trademarked name for baby broccoli, a new hybrid cross of broccoli and Chinese kale. Broccolini has a long, slender, juicy stem like asparagus topped with small flowering buds.

Season: Broccoli is available year-round, with peak season from October through April. Broccoli rabe is most plentiful from late fall to early spring, but is usually available year-round. Rapini from California is available August through March. Broccoli Romanesco may occasionally be found at farmers’ markets in early fall. Chinese broccoli is grown year-round in California. Broccolini is occasionally available throughout the year.

Purchase: Look for broccoli with tight compact bud clusters with an even, deep green color, or green tinged with purple. The buds should be tightly closed and the leaves crisp, with thin stems that are a lighter green than the buds.

You’ll usually find broccoli rabe sprinkled with ice to prevent wilting. Choose small, firm, green stems with compact heads and an abundance of florets. The flower buds should be tightly closed and dark green. Choose rapini that is firm with relatively few buds and flowers.

Avoid: In hot summer weather, all members of this family may spoil. As broccoli grows, the stalks become larger and tougher. Avoid broccoli with large, thick, whitish stalks because the florets will be tough, woody, and strong-tasting. Broccoli rabe is quite perishable and should be examined closely. Sniff the stalks where they are tied together, and avoid any with a sharp mustardy smell. Avoid rabe with yellowed flowers or stalks that are heavily split at the bottom, indicating age.

Storage: Refrigerate unwashed broccoli in an airtight bag in the crisper for up to 4 days. If the stalks are tough, peel before cooking. Broccoli rabe should be wrapped in a wet paper towel in a plastic bag in the crisper.

Preparation: Broccoli:

  1. Wash under cold running water.
  2. Peel or pare the tough outer skin from the stalks. Cut off 1 to 2 inches from the bottom or any split portions and discard.
  3. Divide the broccoli into lengthwise spears, or cut into florets and slice the stalks.

Chinese Broccoli:

  1. Wash under cold running water.
  2. Separate leaves and flower buds from the stems.
  3. Peel the fibrous outer layer from the stems.

Broccoli Rabe:

  1. Wash under cold running water.
  2. Cut off the bottoms of the stalks, then slice across into 1- to 2-inch lengths for ease of cooking.
  3. To lessen bitterness, blanch in boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Drain, rinse under cold running water to set the color, then drain and proceed with cooking.

Serving Suggestions: Create a broccoli slaw with peeled and shredded stalks. Make broccoli amandine by mixing cooked broccoli with toasted almond slices, butter, and lemon. Add Chinese broccoli to Asian soups or stir-fries. Sauté broccoli rabe with oil and garlic. Serve broccolini like asparagus. Serve broccoli Romanesco like cauliflower.

Flavor Affinities: Broccoli and broccoli rabe: anchovy, balsamic vinegar, butter, cheese, chicken, chiles, garlic, lemon, pasta, sausage. Chinese broccoli: chiles, garlic, oyster sauce, seafood, sesame oil, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, tofu.

from Quirk Books: