Broccoli's ready to please. Steam or stir-fry it, roast or boil it, bake it in casseroles, or just eat it raw -- broccoli rewards you, no matter the method. Here's how to cook broccoli.
But did you know you can eat more of the broccoli plant than just the fashionable florets? Oh yes. Don't pitch the stalks. Just give the rough woody parts a quick peel with a potato peeler. Then keep on peeling the tender parts of the stalks into raw salads. Or slice the stalks into little coins and stir-fry or roast them in a little oil. And the leaves? Oh yeh, you can eat those, too. For recipe inspiration, explore our collection of Broccoli Recipes.
What to Look For When Choosing Fresh Broccoli
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is a member of the cabbage family. It comes in a number of varieties, the most common being Calabrese broccoli, with its large flowering heads and sturdy, coarse stalks. Calabrese broccoli is typically what we have in mind when we think "broccoli." Keep an eye out for purple varieties; you can find them sometimes in stores and farmers' markets.
Broccoli is a cool weather crop. So it's freshest from October through April, though it's available fresh year-round. Choose unblemished, dark green tops and firm stalks with no soft spots. The florets should be tightly bunched together, no yellowing at the edges and no budding or mushy spots. The stalks should feel firm and crisp, never limp or wobbly. Check the cut end of the stem, too, and pick broccoli heads that are moist and fresh-looking, not browned where the stem was cut. At most stores, you can also buy packages of pre-cut broccoli florets -- look for the same characteristics to ensure quality.
Broccoli can stay fresh for up to two weeks if you store it unwashed, dry, and tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. Keep in mind broccoli's nutritional value depletes the longer you store it, so you're better off using it as soon as possible.
Another alternative is frozen broccoli -- you can use as much or as little as you like and freezing does a great job of preserving nutrients.
Broccoli and Nutrition
Mom was right. Broccoli really is good for you.
In a one-cup serving, this nutritional powerhouse boasts 200 percent of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, a good dose of Vitamin A, riboflavin, calcium, and fiber -- and contains just 40 calories. It has even been proven to help protect against cataracts, stroke, and many kinds of cancer. In fact, acccording to a researcher at the University of Illinois, sulforaphane, one of broccoli's cancer-fighting compounds, "is one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food." How does sulforaphane's anti-cancer property work? "It works by increasing the enzymes in your liver that destroy the cancer-inducing chemicals you ingest in food or encounter in the environment." Incidentally, boiling broccoli was shown to reduce the effectiveness of its cancer-fighting properties. The best way to maximize the anti-cancer properties may be to give it a quick steam -- just 3 or 4 minutes.
How to Cook Broccoli
Perfectly cooked broccoli is an appetizing bright green with a mild, pleasant flavor and a tender but firm texture. To avoid overcooking, uncover once it's done and serve right away. You can also plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking -- this will preserve the color, flavor, and nutrients.
Here's a friendly visual to help you avoid overcooking broccoli, which may strip it of some nutrients. It shows what to shoot for. The broccoli cooked to "crisp-tender" still holds its healthy crunch and likely has retained vitamins and other nutrients a bit better than the flabby, overdone version.
How to Steam Broccoli
If you have a pasta cooker with a steaming basket, add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pan and bring the water to a boil. Add cut broccoli florets and peeled, sliced rings of broccoli stalks to the basket and steam, covered, for just 3 to 5 minutes. If you like softer broccoli, let it go for a few minutes more. You can also steam broccoli directly in a skillet: add cut broccoli and about 1/4 inch of water to a skillet and cook covered for about 5 minutes.
Have a need for speed? Try steaming broccoli in the microwave. This 5-star recipe for Linguini with Broccoli and Red Peppers features microwave-steamed broccoli -- the entire meal is ready in 20 minutes!
How to Stir-Fry or Sauté Broccoli
Broccoli takes very well to quick-cooking techniques like sautéing or stir-frying. Heat a little oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat, and add cut broccoli florets and peeled, sliced rings of broccoli stalks, stirring and cooking for just 4 or 5 minutes.
Here's another way to saute broccoli. Treat it like fried rice! That's right, it's Broccoli Rice. To make it, you'll pulse raw broccoli florets in a food processor until the broccoli looks like grains of rice. Then saute it in a skillet like fried rice. Broccoli rice is a terrific, low-carb replacement for white rice.
How to Roast Broccoli
Here's how to cook broccoli in the oven. Toss cut broccoli with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and spread the broccoli out in a single layer on a baking dish pre-heated in a 400-degree oven. The broccoli should sizzle when it hits the pan. Roast the broccoli until tender and a little browned at the edges.
Now here's a terrific technique for coaxing delicious caramelized flavors from your roasted broccoli: It's Flash-Blasted Broccoli.
Bake Broccoli in a Casserole
Adding broccoli to casseroles is a great way to sneak something healthy and green into weeknight meals.
Eat Broccoli Raw
Forget the chips. Broccoli's the smart choice for scooping up dips. And uncooked broccoli also adds exciting crunch to raw salads. Pro Tip: To crisp up broccoli florets that have gone a bit limp, soak 'em for a spell in ice-cold water. They'll firm up fast.
Related: 7 Top-Rated Broccoli Salad Recipes
Meet Broccoli's Closest Relatives
When it comes to vegetables, the U.S. can proudly dub itself Broccoli Nation. Each year, each of us eats almost six pounds of fresh broccoli and three pounds of frozen. We have Italy to thank -- broccoli has been grown and enjoyed there since the days of the Roman Empire, and when immigrants from Italy hit U.S. shores, their favorite vegetable became one of ours as well.
Of course, we also devour some of broccoli's closest relatives:
With its small florets and long, slender stems, Broccolini can be easily confused with broccoli rabe. But its flavor is sweeter, more refined and delicate. And its stem looks (even tastes) more like asparagus. In fact, Broccolini’s original name, Aspabroc (yikes!), was a combination of the vegetables it resembled. Often called baby broccoli, Broccolini (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis) is a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli (kai lan) that was developed and trademarked in 1993 by Japan’s Sakata Seed Corporation. You can use it in any dish that calls for traditional broccoli.
Make simple broccolini tonight!
Another gift from the Italians is broccoli rabe, or, as Italians call it, cime di rapa (which means “turnip tops”). Although broccoli rabe is in the same family as regular broccoli, it’s also related to the turnip. Broccoli rabe’s florets are much smaller than those of its broccoli cousin, its stems are more slender, and its leaves more plentiful. Unlike with broccoli, however, all parts of broccoli rabe (Brassica rapa ruvo) are eaten—its stalks don’t require peeling because they’re not as thick and tough as broccoli’s. Its flavor has a bitter edge that some say turns mild and creamy when cooked past crisp-tender.
Make a broccoli rabe recipe tonight!
A portion of this article first appeared as "Broccoli vs Broccoli Rabe vs Broccolini" in Allrecipes magazine.