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Everything You Need to Know About Broccoli

Kale and cauliflower might be more of-the-moment veggies, but broccoli will always be a staple in our kitchens. Its florets, stalks, and leaves offer endless cooking versatility—not to mention the number of varieties with flavors that range from fresh and sweet to vegetal and bitter, and everything in between.

Broccoli is a powerhouse in the kitchen and (thankfully) readily available all year long. Though we’re extra flush with thick, luscious broccoli in the fall and winter months, spring brings with it the more tender varieties, like broccolini and broccoli rabe.

Dive into our guide to learn a bunch about these brassicas and their many tasty applications.

THE LINGO

Crowns

While the tough stalks of your typical bunched broccoli can be eaten (just peel off the rugged outer layer first!), we sometimes ship the heads alone for floret fans. A crown or two gives you your staple for broccoli cheddar soup, ample florets for roasting, or a solid base for broccoli slaw.

Leaves

Bunched broccoli doesn’t just look like a bouquet—it is one. Most broccoli plants include flowers (or “florets”) that grow from central stalks, surrounded by large, ruffly leaves. These leaves have a snappy crunch, flat shape, and hardiness similar to dinosaur kale or collard greens, but taste like a sweeter broccoli rabe. Swap them in whenever dark, leafy greens are called for in soups, sautés, grain bowls, and more. 

Stalk

Whether you refer to them as stalks or stems, the hardy thick base of the broccoli crown is indeed edible. They’re mildly sweet with a hint of that herbaceous broccoli flavor. Just hack off the bottom inch or two (the hardest part of the stalk that’s a bit woody), and peel to remove the thick outer layer of skin. Then, thinly slice them into roastable rounds and bake them like you would roasted broccoli (with a bunch of Parmesan for good cheesy measure). Or, dice broccoli stalks or thinly shave them to add to salads.

THE VARIETIES

Broccoflower

A cross between its two namesakes, broccoflower is sweeter than a cauliflower and more mild than broccoli.i Sub it in for cauliflower to add sweetness (and lime green color!) to  any recipe, especially those that are especially savory.

Broccolini

Broccolini might as well be the Misfits Market mascot, as it was developed to grow year-round and be entirely edible (no trimming or peeling woody stems required), as to nip food waste in the bud. A cross between Chinese broccoli and bunched broccoli, Broccolini boasts abundant, loose florets and long stems that are tender and sweet like asparagus. When grilled, it retains some crispness and its sweet, vegetal flavor is a terrific counterpoint to smoky char.

Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe (pronounced “rob”) isn’t actually a type of broccoli at all–it traces back to wild mustard that once grew in southern Italy and is more closely related to turnips. This branching brassica forms multiple, smaller floret heads rather than a single, larger one, resulting in long, slender stalks, an abundance of large, spiky leaves, and fewer floret clusters. Its sharp bitterness and muted nuttiness work well with fatty or sweet flavors like Pecorino, golden raisins, pine nuts, and Italian sausage.

Bunched Broccoli

Bunched broccoli is likely the kind that comes to mind when you think of the veggie. It’s typically Calabrese broccoli, the variety that first achieved commercial success in the U.S. when it was introduced in the 1920s. The whole head is edible, each part offering its own texture with broccoli’s signature green, subtly sweet flavor.

Chinese Broccoli

Chinese broccoli, aka gai an, is known for thick stalks, broad, flat leaves, and sparse little floret clusters spattered throughout. Its flavor is similar to that of bunched broccoli—vegetal and slightly sweet—with a marked bitterness that’s balanced by stir-frying, blanching, braising, or steaming it and served alongside herbs, or slathered fragrant garlic-forward sauces. 

Ninos

Not familiar with “broccoli ninos?” That might be because you can only buy them at Misfits Market! To cut back on food waste, our growing partners at Lakeside Organics scoop up the tender pieces that fall off baby broccoli while it’s being harvested and bundle them up for us. Best enjoyed raw, we like them paired with hummus or ranch dip, though they’re deliciously tender when steamed and then plated with a filet of salmon or chicken.

Purple Broccoli

Sometimes called ‘asparagus broccoli’ for its lean, clustered stems, purple broccoli is a sprouting variety that’s planted in spring but harvested in winter. It’s similar in taste and texture to bunched broccoli, but when it comes to color, be warned: its florets remain purple only when raw; with heat, that hue turns to green.

Related:

One Pot Pasta Bake with Broccoli Rabe and Mushrooms

Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin

Crunchy Broccoli Slaw

What the Heck Do I Do With Broccoli?

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