Bring on the Broccoli
Some vegetables, like broccoli, can be found year-round at farmers’ markets. Cooler weather brings out the best bunches with crispy stalks, green florets and a bright, earthy flavor. As a member of the cabbage family, it can give off strong odors when past its prime, so be particular and choose heavy heads with small buds tightly packed together. Yellowing is another sign of deteriorating broccoli.
California produces more than 90% of the broccoli crop for the United States and was introduced here in the 1920s by the D’Arrigo brothers, who farmed in the San Jose area.
Nutritionally rich, broccoli is usually green, but some varieties have purple or white buds – all tasting pretty much the same. Showiest of them all, with its large chartreuse-colored florets growing in a spiraling conical head, is the delicately flavored Romanesco broccoli.
Broccoli rabe, known as rapini or rabe, is similar to broccoli in appearance but is actually the flower shoot of a type of turnip. It’s a little bitter with thin stalks, small buds and plenty of leaves. Broccolini, with long, leggy stems, small florets and a few leaves, is tender and sweet – a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli.
If you come across a dark green leafy vegetable with small florets and thick stems, it’s probably Chinese broccoli, or Gai Lan. The large flat bluish green leaves and stems are perfect partners in stir fries, soups, stews and as a side dish.
Roasting brings out the natural sugars in vegetables, mellowing out strong flavors and producing golden, toasty morsels. Pre-cooking or steaming the vegetables before roasting is the best way to make them caramelized and tender. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Chop the vegetables in uniform-sized pieces. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil then season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and steam for half the cooking time. Remove foil and leave uncovered for the second half of cooking time to roast the vegetables until they caramelize,
When roasting broccoli, cut florets from the stalk and peel stalk, if necessary, before cutting into ¼ inch slices. To roast broccolini, trim an inch off the ends and cut thick stems in half lengthwise. For broccoli rabe and Chinese broccoli, trim any tough, fibrous parts of stems before roasting. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips take the longest to roast – 30 to 45 minutes. Broccoli and cauliflower take 15 to 20 minutes and tender items, like cherry tomatoes, zucchini and cooking greens, 8 to 10 minutes.
Roasted broccoli makes an especially flavorful soup. Roast 6 to 7 cups broccoli with ½ onion, cut into large pieces, 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half, 3 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Cool slightly and reserve a few broccoli pieces for garnish. Place the remaining mixture in a blender with 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth. Pour into a pot to reheat. Of course, ½ cup of half and half and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese added to the pot only makes it tastier.
The Orinda Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Orinda Way in Orinda Village. For more information, visit www.cccfm.org, facebook.com/OrindaFarmersMarket and Instagram at OrindaFarmersMarket or call the market hotline at 925.322.6228.
Barbara Kobsar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.