Tips & Techniques Ingredients All About Broccoli

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable and is part of the cabbage family, as is cauliflower. In early stages of cultivation, these two vegetables resemble each other, and for hundreds of years, cooks made no distinction between them. Nowadays, we are perhaps more likely to cook broccoli than cauliflower. With its clusters of green florets topping thick stalks, broccoli is popular largely because it is readily available fresh all year long, is easy to cook, and is high in vitamins A and C and in iron.

Broccoli is at its best when briefly cooked. Although it can be eaten raw, too much of it can cause gastric distress. When cooked until soft, its flavor is strong and its texture unappealing. Consider steaming or stir-frying just until crisp-tender. Broccoli is also delicious when roasted.

Buy heads with tightly clustered dark green or purplish florets and with no signs of yellowing or flowering. Stalks should be firm and fresh looking with healthy green leaves. Do not buy broccoli with tough or woody stems. The stalks of young, tender broccoli are slender, while those of older broccoli are thick and have hollow cores. Although it is available year-round, fresh broccoli is at its best from the fall through the spring and usually is inexpensive. Frozen broccoli is also readily available. Many markets sell only the florets, fresh or frozen, and these can be convenient for a quick weeknight dinner.

Refrigerate broccoli as soon as you get it home. It will keep for 5 days in a perforated plastic bag. To freeze broccoli, trim the leaves and peel the stalks if they look a little woody. Cut the stalks and florets into small strips 1 to 3 inches long. Blanch the broccoli for about 5 minutes, plunge into cold water, drain and freeze in freezer bags. Frozen broccoli keeps for about 1 year.

Trim the leaves on the broccoli stalk only if they appear discolored or unhealthy, and cut away any tough portions on the bottoms of the stalks. If the stalk seems tough, peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Cut the broccoli lengthwise into manageable spears, usually about 3 inches long.

Both the stalks and florets can be precooked by blanching or parboiling, particularly if you will be stir-frying or sautéing the vegetable. Florets cook more quickly than stalks, so split the stalks lengthwise only to the flower heads to cook them intact. Broccoli that is cooked until soft does not reheat well, but broccoli cooked until crisp-tender can be reheated.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)