Since President George Bush Sr. publicly declared his dislike of broccoli in 1990, the vegetable has undergone more scrutiny than any other. The story was covered by the press as well as by humor writers, but broccoli only gained in popularity, ranking eighth a few years later in a 1995 Produce Marketing Association list of America's best selling supermarket vegetables.
No matter how you cut it, broccoli is not a neutral vegetable. Those who love it claim it is interesting, delicious and fun to eat. Those who hate it, on the other hand, complain of its strong taste and gassiness; Bush said that it "tastes like medicine." And there may be scientific evidence to back up their distaste: it seems that there is a genetic trait that helps explain the aversion some have for cruciferous vegetables that contain bitter compounds.
Yet broccoli is a nutritional superstar. Low in calories, it is high in vitamins A and C, minerals potassium, calcium and iron, and a great source of fiber and antioxidants. As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage), broccoli contains anticancer agents like indoles and quercetin.
A native of the Mediterranean, broccoli was popular in Roman times. Pliny described it, and cookbook author Apicius served it boiled, with a sauce of olive oil and wine flavored with cumin, coriander and onion. Brocco means branch in Italian, and the vegetable remained a mostly Italian delicacy until the twentieth century, when two Italian immigrants, Stephano and Andrea D'Arrigo, established a flourishing broccoli business in southern California under the label Andy Boy. In 1990, Campbell's Soup launched the "Get President George Bush to Eat Broccoli" recipe contest, which led to condensed Cream of Broccoli, the company's most successful new soup in 55 years.
There are many varieties of the vegetable, including varieties with green as well as purple, chartreuse or white buds. Look for tight green heads with no signs of yellowing or wilting. The stalk should be bright green and tender, not woody. Store in the refrigerator, and eat as soon as possible for ultimate freshness.
Broccoli makes great soups, casseroles, stir-fries and salads. It is delicious with dips or added to frittatas or omelets. It makes a fine side dish with strong seasonings such as garlic, lemon butter or a cheese sauce, and can be used in recipes that call for cauliflower or asparagus. You can cook it in the microwave, steam it, boil it, bake, grill or broil it. While the stems are tougher than the flower heads, they can also be used in soups, stir-fries or casseroles. Peel the thick, tough skin, and you're left with a crunchy stalk.
Here are two of my favorite broccoli recipes:
4 strips bacon, fried crisp
1 large broccoli stalk or two small fresh stalks
1 carrot, grated
1 small onion, minced
1 apple, chopped
1 Tbsps. cider vinegar
2 tsps. honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup mayo
1/4 cup sour cream
1 hard boiled egg, sliced (for garnish)
Directions: Cook bacon until crisp. Set aside on a paper towel. While bacon is cooking, chop the broccoli fine. Shred the carrots to medium coarseness. Peel and mince the onion; core and dice the apple. Combine all in a large bowl; stir in the vinegar, honey and raisins. Combine mayonnaise with sour cream and blend in. Garnish with slices of hard-cooked egg and the reserved crumbled bacon.
Quick Broccoli and Pasta
1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound egg noodles (or other pasta)
1 large bunch broccoli
1 Tbsp. butter
12 ounces cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Directions: Bring a large pot of water with salt to a boil. Add noodles, and cook according to package directions. Add broccoli during the last four minutes of cooking. Drain.
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the noodles and broccoli. Stir in the cheeses, and cook, stirring, a couple minutes until cheeses melt and flavors blend. If you wish, you can add diced cooked chicken for a heartier meal. Or experiment with adding onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes or olives for extra flavor.