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by Louise Fiszer & Jeannette Ferrary

Horror is what broccoli-lovers feel when they see their favorite vegetable, its florets green as a forest, its stems crunchy as walnuts, thrown into boiling water and left there even a moment too long. It doesn't seem fair, defenders of broccoli contend, that a vegetable which tastes so good raw should be ruined by cooking. In other words, anybody can serve a delicious broccoli dish simply by doing nothing.

However, for some reason people feel compelled to change broccoli, as if it's not quite all there the way it comes naturally. Or, they want to disguise broccoli, to make you think you're eating something else. Some sensitive-nosed detractors complain of its cabbagey qualities which, according to some old and occasionally correct wisdom, can be diminished by throwing a piece of bread into the cooking water.

Broccoli is a pleasant enough tid-bit, neither bland nor particularly assertive. Like the rest of us, broccoli did not choose its relatives, which come from the cabbage family. Although its hereditary associations, therefore, range from the low-life cabbage to the high-brow cauliflower, broccoli itself is neither peasant nor poet. It's sort of a good guy in the middle with more to offer, nutritionally, than just about any other vegetable commonly consumed in this country.

Then again, if people were attracted to what was good for them, movie theaters would sell cartons of hot, buttered broccoli and ballfields would specialize in broccoli on a bun with mustard and relish. And yet, broccoli is crammed with vitamins and minerals, not to mention that its often discarded leaves have more of these than do the buds.

Varieties of broccoli include those with purple, white, chartreuse, or dark green buds. Sprouting broccoli is a leafy, less compact, and pretty variation with many small, white or purple florets. The white broccoli found in England is a form of winter cabbage. Broccoli rabe, a type of turnip that looks like clusters of leaves on a stem, has small buds and flowers. It can be prepared like broccoli, though it is not eaten raw. By contrast, Chinese broccoli, or gai lon, which sports dull green, narrow leaves and white flowers, is excellent with dips or in any broccoli recipe. Broccoli itself works well in any recipe that calls for cauliflower or asparagus.

Chefs have long appreciated broccoli's many attributes. They use its bristle-brush florets to convey colorful dips and sauces. They julienne and chop the stems, scattering them like celery-green confetti into salads and vegetable dishes. Even in Roman times, chefs like Apicius flavored broccoli with strong spices such as cumin and coriander. Chinese cooks have traditionally kept it crisp, applying a quick stir fry to tiny clustered florets and grated stalks. Sixteenth century French chefs knew nothing of broccoli and probably cared less. But those who cooked for Catherine de Medici, who introduced the vegetable to France upon her marriage to Henry II in 1533, soon learned to prepare it in a multitude of ways fit to please a queen. Italian chefs, who are perhaps most adept with broccoli, have a recipe in which the vegetable and seasonings are smothered in red wine and cooked for a shockingly long time. Instead of emerging limp and colorless, however, it is delicious: the flavors mingled like a well-married stew, the textures melting and rich.

Broccoli's associations with Italy include its very name, from brocco, meaning branch. Because broccoli is the diminutive plural, it is grammatically correct to say things like "Broccoli are good for you." Which, of course, it are.

Broccoli and Tomato Soup with Garbanzos
serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 bunch broccoli, stems peeled and sliced and florets cut into small pieces
1 16-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the onion, garlic, pepper flakes, and parsley for about six minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the broth; bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the broccoli and garbanzo beans and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Warm Broccoli, Bacon, and Black Olive Salad
serves 6

1 bunch broccoli, stems and florets cut into bite-size pieces and cooked just until tender
1 head Belgian endive, sliced
1/2 pound bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons golden raisins
1 cup imported black olives, pitted and halved
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with the endive. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving about 1/3 cup rendered fat in the skillet. Cook the garlic in the bacon fat until aromatic. Stir in the vinegar and raisins and simmer for about one minute. Pour this over the broccoli mixture and sprinkle with the reserved bacon and olives. Toss well and season with salt and pepper.

Cold Broccoli with Red-Hot Peanut Sauce
serves 6 as an hors d'oeuvre

1 bunch broccoli, lower stems removed and reserved for another use
1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, ground
1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced

Cook the broccoli just until tender; drain it under cold water. Break it into stalks; arrange the stalks around the outer edge of a serving plate. Cover and chill.

To make the sauce: Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the chili paste, tomato paste, and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the chicken stock, sugar, peanut butter, and hoisin sauce. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for about three minutes. Add the peanuts and chili pepper. Let cool and pour into a small bowl, to be set in the center of the broccoli plate.

Broccoli, Carrots, and Prawns with Oriental Noodles
serves 4

2 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
1/2 pound medium prawns, shelled
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 pound Oriental noodles (soft, Japanese style), cooked and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a skillet or wok. Cook the prawns until they turn pink, about two minutes. Remove and keep warm.
Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and stir-fry over medium heat for 20 seconds. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for about four minutes. Add the broth and soy sauce; bring to a boil and add the broccoli. Cook for four minutes. Stir in the sesame oil, green onion, and reserved prawns. Cook for one minute to heat through.

Pour over noodles and toss well to combine. Garnish with cilantro and serve.


Jeannette & Louise are Bay Area freelance food writers and the authors of several books including Sweet Onions & Sour Cherries and A Good Day for Soup.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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