Friday 14 August 2009

WHB Broccoli – brassica royalty

What a wonderful vegetable is broccoli
Its green branches are prettier than any tree

I love it for dinner

It’s always a winner
So pile some up on my plate for me

I love broccoli and couldn’t find a suitably admiring quote so I made up a little limerick to celebrate it. It wasn’t always so. When I was a child, I turned up my nose at broccoli like many green vegetables. (Unlike a friend’s wee toddler grandson who berated his father about not giving him any broccoli when served fishfingers.) But this changed when I was a student and in love with all things green. It was then that I began to truly appreciate what Denis Potter calls ‘true cabbage royalty’.

One of the encounters that endeared me to broccoli was the wonderful second Moosewood cookbook, called the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I loved the cover, the name of the book and the idea of a dish so full of little broccoli trees that I imagine making ones way through the tangle of branches. It also makes me think of all those parents trying to convince their kids to eat broccoli by calling it little trees. Oddly enough in my student days, one of my friends had a cat that loved broccoli.

History of Broccoli

I finally made one of my favourite broccoli recipes. It inspired me to look into broccoli history. Vegetarians in Paradise gives a good overview. The Etruscans (who settled in Tuscany), originally known as the ‘Rasenna’ were from Asia Minor (now Turkey) began cultivating cabbages and migrated to Italy in 8 BCE. It is not clear to me when cabbages morphed into broccoli but apparently the Romans loved it. Pliny the Elder, an Italian naturalist and writer who lived from 23 to 79 CE, tells us that the Romans grew and enjoyed broccoli during the first century CE. The variety loved by the Romans was called Calabrese, which is the one I mostly eat. But, apparently, purple sprouting broccoli (which I have never found in Melbourne) was cultivated before the Calabrese.

Apicius, the beloved cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then bruising it "with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine." The Romans also enjoyed it with creamy sauces. The Roman Emperor Tiberius, who lived from 14 BCE to 37 BCE, had a son named Drusius who took his love of broccoli to excess. He ate it in the Apican manner for a month, excluding all other foods. When his urine turned bright green and his father scolded him severely for "living precariously," Drusius finally abandoned his beloved broccoli.

Broccoli was first mentioned in French history in 1560, possibly brought from Italy by Catherine de Medici of Tuscany. It arrived in England in the early 18th Century, referred to in Miller’s Garden Dictionary in 1724 as a stranger in England, "sprout colli-flower" or "Italian asparagus." Neither the French nor the English showed much enthusiasm for this stranger.

Thomas Jefferson recorded planting broccoli in 1767, but it seems that broccoli was received with indifference in the United States for many years. It wasn’t until the D’Arrigo Brothers from Italy began to promote their broccoli in 1922 on the radio that the American public began to appreciate it. Not everyone shared the love. A New Yorker cartoon published between 1925 and 1930 had a mother trying to convince her child to eat broccoli with the caption reading "It's broccoli, dear." 
"I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it." But broccoli’s popularity increased after the war when Americans returning from Europe demanded it at home.

In Australia broccoli has been grown since being colonised in 1788. Siberian broccoli, a small, hardy purple variety, was first planted at Norfolk Island in that year. Throughout the 19th century, purple and green varieties were available in Australia but it was not as popular as ordinary cabbage. It wasn’t until the influx of Italian immigrants in the first half of the 20th century that it became more commonly used. More recently in the last decade, we have had the young sweeter cousin, Broccolini, which you can see below (also known as tenderstem in the UK).

The name Broccoli

The name broccoli came from the Latin brachium (or Italian ‘brocco’), which means strong arm or branch. However, I found another discussion positing that there was another variant of the same plant species that was documented in the late 17th century with the dutch name "borecole", which translates to something like "farmer's cabbage". Roman farmers called broccoli "the five green fingers of Jupiter." Broccoli is part of the cabbage or brassica family and has been known as a colewort, Calabrian cabbage or winter cauliflower.

One of the aspects of broccoli I have come to love is the name. It is a pleasure to say and read so I am not surprised to find that others also love this name enough to name their business after it. Japan has a media company called Broccoli that publishes manga, anime and video games. It is the parent company of Broccoli Music Publishing, Broccoli International USA, Broccoli Books. In the USA you will find Broccoli Media Productions, which is a television production company.

Some people eve have the pleasure of being Mr or Ms Broccoli. There is a Broccoli coast of arms here with the claim that the surname goes back to the year 1194 in Tuscany. The best known Mr Broccoli is Albert Romolo Broccoli CBE (Hon) (1909-1996), nicknamed "Cubby", who was an Academy Award-winning American film producer. He made more than 40 movies throughout his career, most notably producing the iconic James Bond films. There is also a Puerto Rican artist called Antonio Broccoli Porto.

In addition to The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen, I found a book of short stories titled Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, by Lara VapnyarLara Vapnyar, and a children’s book by Barbara Jean Hicks and Sue Hendra called Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. It starts “The waitress in this restaurant just doesn’t have a clue. / Monsters don’t eat broccoli! / How could she think we do?”

Broccoli politics

There are many broccoli-phobes on the net. The number one broccoli hater seems to be US President George Bush. He is quoted as saying in 1990:
“I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.”

An amusing political history of broccoli describes how Bush banned broccoli from the White House and Air Force One menus in 1990. Even when growers shipped broccoli to the White House, he donated it to food banks. Fortunately the Clintons served broccoli when Bill replaced Bush as president. Unlike his dad, George W Bush liked broccoli. The Houston Chronicle reported in 2004 on Bush Jnr asking for more broccoli.

Which begs a very important question: does Obama like broccoli? Well, apparently he likes a serving of steamed broccoli with his burger. There is a story of a pizzeria in Chicago called pi making a pizza called the Broccoli Obama. Apparently it contains many of the president’s favourite topping: Broccoli, Seasoned Potatoes, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Gruyere Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, Minced Garlic, Fresh Chives (after baking). I also found a PETA video on the Road to the Greenhouse which featured, among others, Broccoli Obama. There was even a picture of Obama as a head of broccoli which I found here and have copied below.

Broccoli Haters

George Bush is not the only one to hate broccoli. I have found many on the net. For example, Dominic Monaghan said “If I could uninvent anything, I would uninvent Hitler's mum, guns and broccoli.” And Michael Stipe worries about eating broccoli when there are cameras around.

Then there are the broccoli parodies. Jim Rotondo wrote “Broccoli” as a parody of the Beatles Yesterday. It begins with “Broccoli / Gaseous vegetable of greenery / Looks like little trees of scenery / Oh I do eat my broccoli”. He then goes on to make many fibre jokes and calls it “this vile weed”. Kyle Daniels’ parody of Ebony and Ivory, called "Broccoli and Celery", is equally negative with lines like “Kids and parents both hate them / Please don't make them / Eat that junk” and “I'd rather eat glue”.

I even found a short film on YouTube called I Hate Broccoli.

Broccoli Bizarro

Although it seems not everyone hates broccoli. Some attitudes are just strange. Take this comment for example: “What does broccoli symbolise to me? … Not only is it a "green tree" ... But it is also green. What makes it green? Are they actually from gods nose? No one will know. What if the entire species of broccoli became wiped out in a freak giant lawnmower accident? What would happen to those poor broccoli that became so heartlessly decapitated? Their little leaves chopped off like the heads of tiny children.”

On YouTube you can see a song called Chopping Broccoli performed by Dana Carvey,, known to some from Saturday Night Live, but for me he is Wayne’s dopey friend Garth from Wayne’s World. You can see a guy playing Angels We Have Heard on High on an ocarina (this wind-instrument is a bit like a pre-historic recorder) made of broccoli. You can also see a short film called Night of the Broccoli, a comedy about a young man trying to impress his young lady with a cheeky meal of broccoli.

Broccoli and horror seems to be an ongoing theme. In Treehouse of Horror XI Homer Simpson is killed by eating broccoli. I am not sure whether you might think it is horror when you hear the Olsen Twins have a song called Broccoli and Chocolate. But my net surfing became bizarre when I found some strange songs and finally was intrigued by an album by Chopps Derby called You don’t know what broccoli is?. I had thought I did know but some of the odd songs on the web made me curious, I did a search and found it was slang for marijuana. There certainly is some weird stuff on the net!

Broccoli recipes

But enough quirky stuff. This is a food blog and I have some great broccoli recipes. So onto the yummy stuff - because it goes without saying that such a gloriously green vegetable not only makes a dinner plate look beautiful but is delicious and good for you. I love broccoli and often have it steamed with my dinner but there are many ways to enjoy it. I am sharing three quick recipes with you today – a main, a side and soup. You can also find a list of some of my favourite broccoli recipes from this blog and some interesting broccoli recipes from the web.

The side dish is a Broccoli with Brie and Breadcrumbs. I first came across it when living in Edinburgh and loved it because it was so quick and easy to make when I didn’t have much kitchen equipment or pantry essentials. It ranks as one of my all time favourite side dishes. Green broccoli, crispy garlicky breadcrumbs and posh melty cheese are such a great combination that I recommend you try it. In fact it would make a great light meal with a good chunk of bread or be delicious as a pasta sauce.

The main dish here is using broccolini rather than what we call broccoli. I loved the simplicity of this Broccolini and Brie Tart. I found it in a section on Valentine’s Day in a UK Vegetarian magazine. I agree that this is a perfect dish for wooing and impressing. I found that I had more broccolini than brie and probably could have done with a little more of the latter. I suspect this is because my pastry was thinner and my broccolini more than in the recipe which required 100g broccolini and served two people. My kitchen scales were out of batteries at the time so I couldn't weigh it. But the combination was lovely and can be served with a simple salad as the magazine suggested or with more robust roast vegetables and chutney as we enjoyed it.

The last dish is a Broccoli, Parsnip and Lentil Soup I made up using what was about. I have been enjoying broccoli in soups a bit lately. It tends to go with other foods so well. This was a substantial and tasty soup that I whipped up in no time at all. I made it one night before my mum was coming for lunch. She brought a good sourdough bread and I provided soup. It then gave me a few more hearty winter lunches.

Broccoli recipes from Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Broccoli recipes from other blogs:
I am sending this post to Anh from A Food Lover's Journey (who incidently has had a lovely redesign of her site) for Weekend Herb Blogging #196, the weekly event founded by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and now coordinated by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once.

Broccoli with Brie and Breadcrumbs
(from the Safeway Magazine, UK)
serves 2

335g broccoli florets (about one large head of broccoli)
4 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
50g soft freshly grated breadcrumbs
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
150g brie (I used 100g)
chilli flakes or cayenne pepper to taste

Cook broccoli in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and plunge in cold water, then drain again. (I just microwaved mine until just tender and I don’t think I did the plunging in cold water.)

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a medium frying pan (preferably flameproof). Cook garlic in oil for 1 minute and then add breadcrumbs and fry for until browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat the remaining oil and fry onions until golden. Add the broccoli to warm through.

If your frypan is flameproof, you can arrange dish in this (which is what I did) or if not, place onion and broccoli into a flameproof dish. Scatter over the brie and breadcrumbs and grill (broil) about 4 minutes or til cheese begins to melt. (NB in recipe it says to put breadcrumbs on dish after grilling but I did it before grilling). Sprinkle with chilli flakes or cayenne pepper to serve.

Broccolini and Brie Tart
From Cook Vegetarian, February 2009
Serves 4

250g puff pastry (I used pre-rolled sheets)
125g blue brie, thinly sliced
2 bunches broccolini

Blanch the broccolini for one minute (I forgot to do this and it was still ok). Line a greased oven tray (I used a lamington tin – 20 x 30 cm) with puff pastry. Arrange broccolini on the pastry and cover with blue brie. Season with sea salt and cracked pepper. Bake 15-20 minutes in a 220 C oven till golden brown.

Broccoli, Parsnip and Lentil Soup
serves 4-6

2 heads of broccoli, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
750ml vegetable stock
½ cup white wine
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes or till broccoli and lentils are cooked. Blend and serve.

On the Stereo:
Rachmaninov’s The Bells


  1. I too hated broccoli as a kid, then one night Mum made hash and I wanted to know what the little green bits were because they were especially delicious. I've never looked back. We eat broccoli almost every night.

    And I have a cat who loves broccoli and will steal it off your plate if you're not looking!

    I am loving the range of yummy broccoli dishes you have here and have linked to! I can indulge my broccoli obsession with a whole bunch of new flavours now :D

  2. Thanks Johanna! What a comprehensive post! I like the photo of Obama!

  3. There's a Cubby Broccoli screen at the National Media Museum in Bradford. :)

  4. I love broccoli and I'm always looking out for new recipes to make it star. I hadn't realised that there was an actual dish called the enchanted broccoli forest, but I've gone and read your post on that now - such a cutely whimsical idea! A broccoli-eating cat though; now there's a thing I'd like to see.

  5. Just wow! This may be the greatest post ever on broccoli!

    I do love it, and all your broccoli dishes look great to me!

  6. Johanna, I discovered your blog this morning because I have a Google Alert for my name and you mentioned my picture book, MONSTERS DON'T EAT BROCCOLI, in your post today. I feel like I've stumbled on a gold mine--thanks for all the wonderful information as well as recipes. My book just came out this week and I am planning a big book launch party on August 28th. I would LOVE to put together a little packet of information from your post to hand out to people who come. I'm trying to use the book to encourage kids, especially, to eat green, but it would be great for parents to have this information to share with their kids. So I'm asking for permission to use your fabulous research and recipes as give-aways. I would of course give you credit and list your blog address and perhaps find you a whole new group of followers from Southern California! Please email me at and let me know. Thanks so much, Barbara Jean Hicks

  7. I loooove broccoli. And broccoli with brie sounds like an excellent combination.

  8. Thank you for the fabulous post! I love broccoli, and hence I adore this post as well! :-) All your broccoli references made my giggle - Zach sings the "chopping broccoli" song every time we fix broccoli... :-) The Enchanted Broccoli Forest remains one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, as well!

    All your broccoli dishes sound amazing! As I currently have a very great quantity of broccoli in the fridge, your post couldn't have come a a better time! Looking forward to cooking my way through your glorious broccoli menu!

    And I LOVE your broccoli poem! :-)

  9. Keep up the broccoli posts! I adore broccoli and could eat a head with each meal happily. Love Broccoli Obama too lol

  10. Thanks Vegetation - I love the little green bits too - so great in a mash or pesto

    Thanks Anh - that photo of obama made me laugh

    Thanks Miss Alex - good to see Mr Broccoli is celebrated in Bradford (I confess I had never heard of him before)

    Thanks Lysy - isn't the enchanted broccoli forest a great idea - it is a shame you can't visit Vegetation's house to see a broccoli loving cat :-)

    thanks Kalyn - have tried roasting broccoli but never as in your soy sauce and sesame recipe but I will one day

    Thanks Barbara - as I have said on email, that sounds a great idea and am happy for you to use the information, provided credit is given (which I don't doubt you will do)

    Thanks Ashley - oh yes, broccoli and brie is the best combination!

    Thanks Astra - so the chopping broccoli song is known in your house - I had never heard it before - amuses me to think of Zach singing it. Hope you do some interesting dishes with your broccoli - although it is great just steamed

    Thanks Lorraine - I often eat a lot of broccoli with my meal because E has a limit to how much he can eat and I just hoover up the rest!

  11. What an incredible, comprehensive history of broccoli! Fabulous info. Love the photo and the film clips! I remember almost falling off my chair when I watched that Dana Carvey "Choppin' Broccoli" segment on Saturday Night Live. I also love broccoli but it doesn't seem to make much of an appearance on my blog--will have to change that. And of course the recipes look phenomenal!

  12. I love broccoli, and I also love brie, so your pictures are making me hungry! :)

  13. yummm... I love broccoli..and your research about broccoli is amazing..!!


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