Hello my dear readers,
Are you ready to discover another delightful ingredient of our cuisine?
The birth and history of broccoli, the vegetable with extraordinary beneficial properties: from the invention of the ancient Romans to its spread in Europe, up to the arrival in America.
Broccoli is part of the Brassicaceae family (also known as Cruciferae), which are herbaceous plants.
This vegetable, not loved by kids but a real cure-all for our health, is now widespread in much of Europe and the world, but few know that it originated in Southern Italy.
Let’s go and discover the main stages in the history of broccoli, starting with the Etruscans and the ancient Romans and arriving up to the landing in the United States.
Broccoli, the vegetable loved by the Etruscans and ancient Romans
The cabbage family, to which broccoli belongs, was much loved by the Etruscans, who appreciated both its taste and its beneficial properties.
This ancient civilization of skilled navigators was in fact devoted to cultivation and it is thanks to the Etruscans and their famous trades in the Mediterranean that cabbage also reached the Phoenicians, the ancient Greeks and the populations of the current islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica.
Great lovers of cabbage were also the ancient Romans, so much so that the well-known naturalist Pliny the Elder, at the turn of 23 and 79 AD, wrote about how this civilization used to cultivate and cook them.
The merit of the creation of the first variety of broccoli, called Calabrian broccoli, as well as the etymology of the term that derives from the Latin brachium, meaning arm, branch or shoot, must be attributed to them.
It is said that the Romans used to boil broccoli together with a mixture of spices, onion, wine and oil (as evidenced in the recipe books of the gastronome Apicius) or to serve them accompanied by creamy sauces prepared with aromatic herbs or wine, as it is said that they used to eat them raw before banquets to ensure that the body absorbs alcohol better.
The little tree shaped superfood that has conquered the world
The spread of broccoli outside the Italian territory began in 1533, when Caterina de ‘Medici married Henry II and introduced this precious vegetable to the French court, which at the time also included Italian chefs.
After France it was the turn of England, where broccoli was nicknamed the Italian asparagus, as mentioned in the 1724 edition of Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary.
In both countries, broccoli became popular with the passage of time, but the initial reception was not the best, also due to the unpleasant smell of sulfur they emanate during cooking.
In 1922 two immigrants from Messina brought the broccoli seeds to California, giving life to the first plantation in the city of San Jose, and then contributed to their distribution in other cities as well.
In the United States, unlike the European countries, these vegetables quickly and successfully established themselves, and by the 1930s their popularity was consolidated.
Around the world in the last thirty years, thanks to new cooking methods and new discoveries on health benefits, including antioxidant properties that help prevent some forms of cancer, the consumption of broccoli has tripled.
The best known and loved varieties are the Calabrian one, with a rosette shape, and the Romanesco broccoli, known for its pyramidal shape with many small spiral rosettes.
But who likes broccoli?
Many cannot even hear about it.
It is a shame, because they are probably one of the healthiest foods we can hope to eat.
Not only for the contribution of vitamins of groups A, B, E, C, K and trace elements such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and many others, but also for the anti-carcinogenic properties.
In fact, broccoli contains sulforaphane, one of the most powerful anticancer agents known to man and with antibacterial properties, and Indole-3-carbinol, a molecule that promotes DNA repair.
To avoid losing these important nutritional properties, it is better not to boil the broccoli but to steam it, in a pan or in the microwave.
Properties and benefits of broccoli
The nutritional values of broccoli are excellent, as are their properties: broccoli is rich in mineral salts (calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, magnesium, chlorine, fluorine, zinc) and vitamins (C, B1, B2, PP, K and provitamin A).
They are low in fat, low in sugar and protein and low in calories (maximum 25 calories per 100 grams). They are also very rich in water.
Broccoli is a highly renowned food for its benefits on the body, possible thanks to its large amount of micronutrients, minerals and antioxidants (carotenoids), which are very important in the prevention of some cardiovascular and cancer diseases.
Two important elements have a protective function against breast, intestinal and lung cancers.
Let’s talk about sulforaphane and isothiocyanates.
The first is the element that gives the characteristic odor when these vegetables are cooked, but this problem can be overcome by squeezing lemon in the cooking water.
Furthermore, the percentage of fibers that give a feeling of satiety and at the same time contribute to the regulation of functionality and the prevention of tumors in the intestine is very high.
Broccoli contains a lot of chlorophyll (a factor useful for promoting the production of hemoglobin present in red blood cells), fiber (useful for intestinal transit), lutein and zeaxanthina (reducing the risk of worsening our vision) and sulfur (with an important disinfectant action).
In addition, broccoli has an antioxidant power that helps strengthen the immune system and is often suggested to fight Helicobacter pylori, a harmful and resistant bacterium that can produce ulcers and gastritis.
Broccoli also fights water retention, thanks to their detoxifying action that promotes the elimination of harmful chemical waste.
Finally, it is an excellent vegetable against the onset of stroke.
In fact, what is consumed from the plant is the inflorescence which can occur in various ways depending on the species and variety, although in some cases the leaves are used, such as in cabbage and savoy cabbage. They are usually cooked boiled or steamed as the taste is accentuated. In this way many of the properties are retained even if the vitamins degrade with cooking.
Among other things, the powers given by their consumption are numerous: purifying, diuretic, vermifuge, emollient, antianemic.
How to cook broccoli: cooking and preparation methods
There are various ways to cook broccoli.
In a pan, for example, broccoli can form a very tasty side dish or can accompany main courses of meat or fish.
Smoothies with other vegetables, on the other hand, can contribute to the creation of delicious soups and salads.
How to cook broccoli in a pan:
Clean the broccoli and cut the stems and leaves. Then let them soften for a few minutes in hot salted water, then drain them without letting them become too soft. If you prefer, at this point, cut them into small pieces. In a pan, heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (or a piece of butter) with a clove of garlic. Then add the broccoli, a pinch of salt and cover everything. Let it cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. At this point you can serve them.
If the broccoli you stir-fried will have to accompany fish main courses, you can make them even more delicious with anchovies, olives or cherry tomatoes in oil.
How to cook broccoli in the oven:
To prepare them, boil them in hot water for about 10 minutes and drain. Then brush a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil (or with a piece of butter), create a veil with the breadcrumbs and add the broccoli. Then cover everything with the bechamel, a little breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Finally bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes. You will get an original side dish that can give life to different variations: with potatoes and cheese, with bread, with bechamel. They will all be delicious dishes!
How to cook boiled broccoli:
To prepare them, fill a large pot with water and, just before it reaches a boil, add the previously cleaned broccoli. After about 10 minutes, check that they have been boiled and drain. Once boiled, they can be consumed, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and lemon. Add anchovies or pine nuts instead if you want to give more texture to the side dish.
Prepared in this way, they are usually used in vegetable soups, to create a perfect cream to eat with croutons or to make the classic pasta with broccoli.
How to cook steamed broccoli:
Clean and cut the broccoli in pieces and add them into a food steamer. Steam for around 5 minutes, don’t let it become too mushy. Season with extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It is perfect!
This is my favorite way of eating broccoli. It remains so green and full of vitamins and it keeps all its properties and nutritional values.
Recipe ideas with broccoli
There are many possible recipe ideas with broccoli.
Pasta with broccoli is a traditional dish.
The types of pasta that are suitable for this preparation are different but it is preferable to use short pasta, such as the classic orecchiette.
The traditional recipe includes turnips among the ingredients but you can replace them with broccoli to create an equally excellent dish.
Clean the broccoli and set aside. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and then add the broccoli. To add even more flavor to the dish, reuse the cooking water to cook the pasta too: the flavor of broccoli will triumph on the table.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a substantial first course, what is right for you is a pasta with broccoli and sausage: the very tasty sausage is perfect for counteracting the delicate taste of broccoli. In a large pan, bring the salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook for about 10 minutes. In a separate pan, heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil with a clove of garlic and add the sausage. Then blend with white wine, add a pinch of salt and pepper and let it simmer. Once ready, combine the broccoli with the sausage. Cook the pasta in the same cooking water as the broccoli, then drain it and, finally, toss it in the pan with the sauce just prepared.
Broccoli is also very versatile for making second courses.
By combining them with boiled and mashed beans, you can create unusual but delicious burgers.
Alternatively, you can prepare broccoli meatballs: by combining broccoli, potatoes and cheese you can cook a flan rich in taste and pleasant to savor, with a beautiful contrast between the outside, more crunchy, and the “heart”, softer.
Broccoli also lends itself to the preparation of savory pies: try making one by filling it with sautéed broccoli and sausage.
Take a roll of puff pastry, roll it out, put broccoli, sausage and cheese in the center. Close the roll, turn it over and brush with a mixture of yolk and oil. Score the surface and put in a preheated oven at 200 ° for about 30 minutes. Before consuming the savory pie with broccoli and sausage, let it cool a little: it will be delicious to enjoy on any occasion.
Broccoli is therefore a food that is very good for health and is deeply linked to our history and our culture.
Those who do not love it can therefore make an effort and try this very interesting vegetable, a bit of the elixir of long life that many are struggling to find.
I do like broccoli and I eat it at least one time per week 😉
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Thank you all for reading!
Have a wonderful day!
Photo credit: Pixabay, edited by Popsicle Society