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Let’s get one thing straight, broccoli is not a baby tree. According to research carried out by the BBC, one in six children think it is! It is however definitely a type of wild cabbage and there are three commonly grown types, the most familiar of which is also sometimes known as Calabrese. It usually has large green heads, thick stalks, big boggly eyes and makes strange beeping noises. Or is that Martians?
There seems to be a little bit of disagreement about where the word broccoli comes from. Some say it’s a derivative of the Italian word “broccolo”, meaning shoot or stalk, others say it’s Italian for "little sprouts". There are those who swear it comes from the Latin “brachium”, meaning arm, via the Italian “braccio” and then there’s the deep-thinkers… They believe it was named after the Academy Award winning producer of the classic James Bond films, or is possibly in commemoration of a former 1970s centre half who played for Arsenal, Coventry, Leicester and Notts County. Unfortunately all this etymological debate failed to prevent British pop band McFly from recording a song called “Broccoli” in 2004.
One thing that’s not in doubt though is the rapid increase in broccoli’s popularity. Consumption has increased almost 1000% over the last 25 years. However, former American president George Bush the First is definitely not a fan! He claimed that he’d never liked it during one of his presidential speeches. In response a powerful broccoli agricultural lobby sent several tonnes of it to the White House. This was promptly donated to a local charity! More fool President Bush as broccoli is high in vitamin C and soluble fibre and is also a good source of calcium, vitamin K and folate. Perhaps he had been watching too much of “The Simpsons”. In the “Treehouse of Horror XI” episode, Homer was killed by broccoli!
Broccoli is usually boiled or lightly steamed, but has become increasingly popular as a raw food. It is relatively easy to overcook broccoli and steaming will cause the least loss of nutrients.
When buying broccoli it’s best to look out for compact, uniformly coloured clusters with no yellowing. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots. (Slimy spots are a bit of a give-away when buying vegetables!) Broccoli should be stored in the fridge but not washed before refrigeration as this might encourage mould growth!
For the green-fingered amongst you, it is worth noting that broccoli is a cool-weather crop that does poorly in hot summer weather. It grows best when exposed to an average daily temperature between 18-23°C (that’s 65-75 Fahrenheit in old money) and it doesn’t tolerate frost. It can also fail in loose, nutrient-starved soil, ideally the ground should be firm and rich in organic matter.
Recipe: Broccoli korma