Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, and is closely related to cauliflower. Its cultivation originated in Italy. Broccolo, its Italian name, means "cabbage sprout." Broccoli's name is derived from the Latin word brachium, which means branch or arm, a reflection of its tree-like shape that features a compact head of florets attached by small stems to a larger stalk. Because of its different components, this vegetable provides a complex of tastes and textures, ranging from soft and flowery (the florets) to fibrous and crunchy (the stem and stalk). Its color can range from deep sage to dark green to purplish-green, depending upon the variety. One of the most popular types of broccoli sold in North America is known as Italian green, or Calabrese, named after the Italian province of Calabria where it first grew.
Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, either dark green, sage or purple-green, depending upon variety, and with no yellowing. In addition, they should not have any yellow flowers blossoming through, as this is a sign of over maturity. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots appearing either there or on the florets. If leaves are attached, they should be vibrant in color and not wilted.
Place broccoli in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 10 days. Do not wash broccoli before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage. Partial heads of broccoli should be placed in a well-sealed container or plastic bag and refrigerated. Since the vitamin C content starts to quickly degrade once broccoli has been cut, it is best to use it within a couple of days. Broccoli that has been blanched and then frozen can stay up to a year. Leftover cooked broccoli should be placed in tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.
Rinse broccoli under cold running water. Cut florets into quarters for quick and even cooking. Be sure to enjoy the stems and leaves of broccoli; they provide a good balance of flavors. Peel the broccoli stem and cut the stem into 1/2" slices To get unique health benefits from broccoli, let it sit for several minutes before cooking.
Broccoli is an excellent source of immune-supportive vitamin C, anti-inflammatory vitamin K, and heart-healthy folate. It is a very good source of free-radical-scavenging vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoid phytonutrients), enzyme-activating manganese and molybdenum; digestive-health-supporting fiber; heart-healthy potassium and vitamin B6; and energy-producing vitamin B2 and phosphorus. It is a good source of energy-producing vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, protein, and iron; bone-healthy magnesium and calcium; and antioxidant-supportive vitamin E and selenium.