Trademarked brands of boutique broccoli are sprouting up on supermarket shelves, wooing us with their discreet ® symbol and not-so-discreet claims of exceptional tenderness. But any broccoli should do that job – be it familiar calabrese, trendy purple sprouting, or less common romanesco – provided it's truly fresh.
You know you've got your hands on freshly cut stuff when your nail sinks into the stalk – a sign that it will taste sweet and juicy. As the days after cutting roll by, the stalk becomes tougher, and the sweetness gradually gives way to a progressively more bitter and cabbage-like taste.
Broccoli is a vegetable best cooked very briefly (preferably steamed), or gently and for a long time – as in the classic Puglian orecchiette pasta dish with anchovies and chilli below. If steaming or boiling, it's important to dry off the broccoli in the pan, perhaps with a little butter or sesame oil.
It pays to be cynical about anything touted as a "superfood", but broccoli genuinely deserves this status thanks to its unique package of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying micronutrients. Broccoli offers high levels of immune system-boosting vitamin C, bone-strengthening vitamin K, and folate, which plays a strategic role in regulating cell growth and reproduction. It's also packed with glucosinolate compounds, such as sulforaphane and glucoraphanin, which help to fight cancer. By reducing inflammation, eating broccoli could also help lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.