Broccoli. James Broccoli.
Well, not quite. But it was a certain Italian American, Albert Broccoli, born into a family that worked in the vegetable business in Queens, who went on to produce all of the Bond films made during his life, and his heirs continue the legacy today.
A couple hundred years earlier, in another Italy-America connection, Thomas Jefferson imported broccoli seeds from Italy and planted them at Monticello. From his garden notes, we know he planted green, white, and purple varieties over many years. And I imagine he would not have approved of a future president, George Bush, banning it from the White House dinner table.
Today broccoli is as ubiquitous as the Bond franchise, if not quite as glamorous, and can be found everywhere from fancy restaurants to the frozen food aisle of the grocery store. But none of the broccoli that you find in those places will be as full of flavor and nutrition as what you can get fresh from your local farmer right now.
A Multipurpose Veggie
One of the healthiest and most versatile of vegetables, broccoli can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, or sautéed—just don’t overcook it! Besides destroying nutrients, overcooking releases that dreaded cabbage-y stink. If you steam or boil your broccoli, monitor it carefully, and drain it as soon as it is bright green and fork tender.
And in addition to being good to eat, broccoli is very good for you. One serving has only 28 calories and contains 155% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, approximately 33% of vitamin A, and close to 40% of folic acid. It also has almost the same calcium levels as milk. The American Cancer Society has named broccoli an “anti-cancerous” food because it is so dense in nutrients and high in antioxidants.
Now You See it…
Broccoli doesn’t do well in hot weather, so the spring and early summer farmers markets are the prime time and place for broccoli and its many cousins. Get it while it’s tender and sweet, and be sure and eat the whole thing—florets, stalks, and leaves are all delicious.
1 pound broccoli, florets cut vertically through the stems—be sure and use the stalks, too!
2 Tb olive oil, plus 1 Tb butter
3 cloves garlic or more, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock, or water
Optional: a nice melting cheese, like Fontina or Robusto
1. Cut the broccoli (florets and stems) longitudinally so that the flat cut surface will be in direct contact with the pan. Don’t throw away the stems. If the base of the stem seems tough, peel off the exterior and then slice longitudinally as well.
2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the broccoli flat side down and sear until it's nicely browned. Remove and set aside.
3. Add the crushed red pepper and minced garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, about 45 seconds.
4. Add the stock or water, and then put the broccoli back in the pan cut side down with the other ingredients. Cover and simmer until the liquid has reduced a little, and the broccoli is fork tender. Salt and pepper to taste.
5. Optional: Before covering, shred a favorite cheese over the broccoli and let it melt as the broccoli simmers.
Everyone, from finicky eaters to fancy food folks, will swoon if you grate some cheese over this simple yet elegant broccoli dish.