Broccoli - nature's nutrition powerhouse

Italian-style Sauteed Broccolini.
Italian-style Sauteed Broccolini.

If you grow your own then you will know just what you have in your garden. But if you rely on purchasing from a green grocer then it maybe a little confusing - is it broccoli, broccolini or broccoli rabe (pronounced Robb)?

Actually there is little more satisfying than plucking a head or cutting some stems of any of them as they cannot be any sweeter than fresh from your garden. Broccoli and broccolini are both from the brassica family with broccoli being available in several varieties, while broccoli rabe, possibly one of the most popular vegetables in the world, is actually a member of the turnip family, with the stalks, leaves and flowers all edible. It is very common in China and Hong Kong as well as southern Italy.

All three are often referred to as a nutrition powerhouse as excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamin C, fibre, folate and also supply calcium, iron, vitamins E and A along with potassium.

Preparation and storage is very simple - you just trim the stalks and divide the heads into evenly sized portions. You can eat the stalks or you can remove the stalks and slice them thinly and add to stir-fries, soups or salads. Again with all three it is really important you do not overcook them. Prolonged cooking breaks down and destroys some of the nutritional assets and will also alter the flavour, texture and colour making them bitter, mushy and grey. Blanching is the most nutritious way to cook all three by simply plunging into boiling water for 60 seconds and then allowing to refresh under a cold running tap.

The word broccoli means "little sprouts" in Italian with sprouting broccoli (or calabrese) being the most popular variety which has dark, blush green heads with firm stalks which will snap easily when fresh. Avoid broccoli showing yellow leaves or yellow flowers through the buds.

Another variety is Romesco which has light green clusters of heads that are pointed and look a bit like corral. Purple broccoli tends to have smaller heads with a deep purple tinge otherwise it is identical to the sprouting broccoli. Broccolini is a natural cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli (Gaai laan). It has a long slender stem topped with small flowering buds that resemble a cross between broccoli florets and asparagus tip.

Chinese broccoli also known as Chinese sprouting broccoli, Chinese kale (Gaai laan) has long green stems (about 2cm in diameter and 20cm long) with white flowers and green leaves which have a white haze on them. The flowers should be in bud rather than in full bloom.

All the above can be prepared and used in the same way. A few ideas:

  • Blanch and refresh to use in salads
  • Incorporated in pasta dishes
  • Risotto
  • Omelettes and frittatas
  • Soups
  • As a side dish with cheese sauce or hollandaise


4 bunches broccolini
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
zest from 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and finely chopped
juice from one lemon
freshly ground black pepper and sea salt


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the broccolini for 1 minute. Drain and place under a running cold tap until well cooled. Allow to drain completely and pat dry with a paper towel.

2. Melt the oil and the butter in a heavy based saut pan and allow to heat without colour.

3. Add the garlic and the lemon zest and stir for 30 seconds.

4. Add the broccolini and allow to heat all the way through, tossing with the garlic and lemon zest for about 3 minutes.

5. Add the lemon juice and season with the freshly ground black pepper and sea salt and toss once again.

6. Enjoy as it is or as a side dish. Delicious as a warm salad.

Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/ Bainfield Rd roundabout.

The Southland Times