Get Down & Dirty With Broccoli

Broccoli and cauliflower are vegetables that are easy to malign when cooked poorly.
11/26/2012 02:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables and more by the numbers.

Along with peas, broccoli and cauliflower are vegetables that are easy to malign when cooked poorly -- "stale and murky," our senior editor Kristen calls them. But treated right in a slaw, a batch of roasted vegetables, or pesto, broccoli, cauliflower and their ilk can be downright classy. Today we tackle a bevy of brassicas, floret by floret.

1. Broccoli: By far the most commonly available of the bunch, broccoli is just as good raw as it is cooked. There are three main varieties that you'll encounter: the tightly-bunched kind that you'll see in supermarkets, a more loosely floreted variety called sprouting broccoli, and a variety with purple florets!

2. Romanesco... Something: Strangely, this variety is called both Romanesco broccoli and Romanesco cauliflower. Light green and gorgeously fractalled into peaks, it's not actually a cross between the two even though you'll occasionally find it labeled "broccoflower." And math geeks, get excited: the number of spirals on each head of Romanesco is always a Fibonacci number. It's slightly milder and nuttier in taste than its two cousins, so plan accordingly in recipes.

3. Cauliflower: When it comes to costume changes, cauliflower has all the fun. In peak season, you can find cauliflower in colors like orange, light green, bright purple (sadly, the color fades upon cooking), and the regular white. As with many other vegetables, the colors are the result of minor genetic changes: purple cauliflower is caused by anthocyanins (the same color-causing agent found in cabbage and grapes) and orange cauliflower has genetically abnormally high levels of vitamin A.

4. Eats Shoots and Leaves, Pt I: Broccoli stems are edible! Just chop off their tough skins (see how in this recipe for Roy Finamore's Broccoli Cooked Forever) and cook with the tender insides.

5. It Was All Yellow: You may have noticed that broccoli turns yellow as it ages. This is actually completely natural -- it's the broccoli florets maturing and growing into yellow flowers!

6. Just Because: Whatever you call them, fractalled vegetables are so beautiful.

7. Eats Shoots and Leaves, Pt II: Brassica leaves are edible, too! Gilt Taste recommends serving them on toast, but you can also toss them into your roasts, soups, and sautes along with the florets. Crisped up in the oven, they're reminiscent of kale chips!

8. How to Floret: The best way to cut broccoli and cauliflower comes from Kristen in, again, Broccoli Cooked Forever. To keep your cutting board (and, uh, entire kitchen) from becoming covered in tiny, hard-to-brush-away floret bits, cut partially through the stem and pull the florets apart with your hands. No mess!

Green or purple, orange or white, broccoli and cauliflower are interchangeable to an extent. Tired of your favorite broccoli soup? Try it with Romanesco broccoli. And be sure to let us know if you try cooking cauliflower forever!


Photos by James Ransom