Broccoli was born in an Italian cabbage patch. Like other instinctive individuals, it struck out on its own. While it looks like it is related to cauliflower, it remains part of the cabbage’s extended family. It was a popular dish on 1st C Roman tables and the Romans sent it out with their troops to build an empire. This beautiful green bouquet was introduced throughout Europe and North Africa where the vegetable has prospered ever since. The English took it to North America early on, where it developed a following though it was never quite adopted by the mass of North American taste buds.
Fortunately for us, the immigrating Italians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought broccoli to our attention one more time. Most of us finally recognized the rich flavor possibilities this green vegetable contains. These days it is welcome on the majority of American tables. An added benefit is that it is rich source of vitamins C and K, minerals and fiber. Like the rest of its vegetable family, it has been shown to assist the body to defend against some types of cancer. There are those stubborn few, as epitomized by the famous New Yorker cartoon.
What most people consume is the actual unopened flower buds of the plant. The stalks, however, have a mildly sweet flavor and a good crunch. Like so many vegetables, the flavor is enhanced by a light hand in the cooking. Steaming, roasting and stir-frying produce the most rewarding taste. One should not, though, ignore the benefits of raw broccoli, which appears on hors d’oeuvres platters with dipping sauces and it is a good raw snack any old time.
In a past column we published a recipe for Broccoli with Saffron, Raisins and Pine Nut Pasta, from Sicily where the cuisine acquired a North African influence long ago. This remains a great favorite at our table, especially this time of year. Today we are offering unusual uncooked broccoli dish, Broccoli Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing. It is such a fresh and marvelous combination of flavors, your taste buds will overcome your traditions.