Good evening, and welcome once again to The Food Gallery. Over the years, we’ve managed to shut down many of the exhibits here in the Vegetal Hall of Horrors. Spinach, peas, beets, dark, leafy greens, don’t live here anymore. But there is one inmate who seems determined to remain on permanent display: Brassica oleracea. Broccoli. Falsely accused of being bitter, limp, or bland and boring, this flowering body has garnered the ire of presidents and pubescents alike. You see, broccoli entered this country rather late in the immigration game, at a time when the country’s collective heart was hardening against newcomers.
[at another exhibit this one of a mid-20th century family sitting at a table] This hateful sentiment was best voiced in an insightful cartoon from a 1928 edition of “The New Yorker,” depicting a domestic scene, in which broccoli is making a hopeful debut. [hits a button which animates the family]
WOMAN: [to the girl] Try it, dear. It’s called broccoli.
GIRL: [defiantly] I say it’s spinach, and I say to #%!$* with it!
MAN & WOMAN: [gasps]
Fear of the unknown often leads to destructive attitudes and activities. Simply prepared, broccoli can be every bit as tasty as apple pie. Different, but delicious. It may have once been banned from Air Force One, but that doesn’t mean that broccoli is not ...
[“Good Eats” theme plays]
The word “broccoli” means “little arms” in Italian, and it is that characteristic which makes it possible for you and I to separate broccoli from its kin, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and regular old cabbage, which are so genetically close to broccoli that when botanists try to justify their existence, they ...
BOTANIST: But then wait, this is cabbage and this is cabbage, and ... but this is broccoli, but it ... but that means that this is broccoli, so it must be cabbage, too! [laughs maniacally]
I think the scientific term is “blow a gasket.”
Now it is believed that broccoli was developed more than 2,000 years ago. First
by Etruscan gardeners and then by Romans, who were big broccoli fans. In fact,
Drusus, the oldest son of Tiberius, I think it is, ate nothing but broccoli for
a month, until it literally changed his “water” green.
Broccoli’s big break in this country came when a couple of Italian brothers began growing it in California in the early 20th century. Today, roughly 90% of the U.S. Crop comes from The Golden State. The problem is, I can’t find any of the crop around here. Where is the broccoli? [moves to another part of the store]
FLORIST: Can I help you?
AB: [noticing that the florist is arranging broccoli] Well, I can’t help but notice that you’re arranging vegetables.
F: Vegetables? Ha! Give it some time, and all these will explode into beautiful, precious, pretty flowers like these.
AB: Uh-huh. [to us]
Um, botanically, she’s right. Most varieties of broccoli are flowering bodies. Although, there are some heading varieties which are more closely related to cauliflower.
F: Oh, I have some lovely cauliflower centerpieces right over here.
AB: Yes, very ... artistic. And I see that you also have some of broccoli’s more crossbred cousins here as well.
F: I’ve got some broccoli rabe ...
AB: Very bitter, yet strangely delicious. Closely related to turnip, I believe.
F: ... and broccolini ...
AB: A hybrid cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. And I see you have some of this strange but wonderful broccoli romanesco.
F: No, this one can’t be a vegetable. Look how pretty it is. All those tiny little cones. It looks like a magic fairy sandcastle.
AB: Yes, doesn’t it? Well, if you ask me, no one is going to want to eat that. Because once it flowers, broccoli is extremely bitter.
F: Well, I didn’t ask you! But if you ask me, you should stop thinking so much. Stop and smell the flowers! [exits]
Come here. When shopping for regular broccoli, you want buds that are firmly closed, florets that are tightly grouped. And you want a nice, bright green color, no splotches anywhere. Also, check out the base of the stem. It should be moist. If it’s white and kind of crusty, that means that some of the sugar in here has converted to lignin, which is a key ingredient in wood. Not good eats. This is ideal.
GUEST: Refrigerator Gnome
[at the refrigerator] Due to its floral nature, broccoli has a tendency to spoil
more quickly than other vegetables, But a few days here in the chill chest, will
do no harm. That’s why you should ...
RG: Don’t put your broccoli up here!
AB: It’s you!
RG: Follow me to a far, far better place!
RG: If you want that broccoli to have a chance at survival, you’ll put it in this drawer, which thanks to higher humidity, keeps veggies crisper, fresher and firmer!
AB: Well, I don’t see a humidifier in here.
RG: Of course you don’t, lummox! It uses a gasket to trap the moisture released by the produce itself.
AB: Okay, then what’s this little slider for?
HIGH • • • • • • • • • • LOW
AB: Well, most lummoxes probably don’t stand around talking to yard ornaments in
here. Anything else?
RG: Plastic bags are fine, but be sure to punch a few holes in there to let moisture escape. Condensation is the bane of fresh veggies, don’t you know? By the way, when’s the last time you cleaned up in here? A good scrubbing every other month will keep mold and other nastiness away.
AB: [throws a bag on top of the gnome]
RG: [mumbles, his voice muffled by the bag]
AB: [in a German accent] Perhaps you need to spend a little time in the cooler.
RG: How dare you try to silence the gnome!
Although I’m sure there’s more than one way to trim a broccoli crown, I prefer to do it by flipping it upside down. Just use a paring knife to make quick diagonal cuts, which will give you a nice harvest of the florets. If the stalk seems dry or tough, you can peel it before slicing or quartering. And, of course, trimming the end if necessary. Now these are manageable pieces to cook. Unlike cauliflower, which prefers long cooking, broccoli responds best to quick application of high heat. The real challenge stems from the fact that florets cook so much faster than the stalks, which are actually my favorite part.
Now staying the course with American traditions, most home cooks boil broccoli to death, resulting in some unhealthy attitudes.
GUEST: George Herbert Walker Bush
GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH: Please, do not ask me to eat that which I have just said I am not going to eat because you are burning up time. Read my lips. No more broccoli!
‘Tis a sad, sad scene, repeated in many homes across America. Although we seek to soften the plant fibers in order to make them palatable and to make the numerous nutrients inside available, boiling tends to over-soften the walls of the plant. And once that happens, it’s all over.
Broccoli made its triumphant return to the White House
with the 1992 election of President Bill Clinton.
GUESTS: Sock puppets
Dr. Kazimierz Funk
To help explain the dastardly dilemma that is overcooked broccoli, we’ve broken
out the old Mystery Food Science Theater!
[the M.F.S.T. presentation box opens, revealing two sock puppets] Inside broccoli, nice, bright green chlorophylls are kept separate from acidic elements by cell walls. But if you overcook the broccoli, the cell walls can collapse, and the acids can attack, turning our nice, bright green chlorophylls into a sad, dingy gray [the red sock sprays the bright green sock which then turns grey]. Kind of like that. To add insult to injury, water-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals rush out into the water, never to be returned.
Thank you. Wonderful show. Even careful blanching tends to do more damage than good. Steaming, on the other hand, gives us more control. Because although it’s technically hotter than boiling water*, steam is far less dense and it can’t wash nutrients away. But steaming still leaves us in a lurch concerning equal doneness, okay? Now since most of the nutrients are in the florets, I suggest a hybrid cooking method. Rather than using a steamer basket, we’ll use the stalks to create a platform for the florets.
Now I have here a couple of big stalks worth of broccoli, maybe three small ones. And I’ve trimmed them, and I’ve cut the stalks into eighth to quarter-inch slices. And I’m just going to lay those out in the bottom of the sauce pan—a saucier, actually. Kind of a little platform. We’ll add a pinch of salt, and just enough water to almost, but not quite cover the stalks. Probably take about a third of a cup. There.
1-1 ½ Pounds Broccoli,
Trimmed & Rinsed
Pinch of Salt
⅓ Cup Water
Now all you have to do is arrange the florets on top of that. You can try to get
the stems down, or do what I do. Just dump it in there. Perfect. There. Put that
to high heat, covered, and cook for three minutes. Then decrease the heat to low
and cook for another three minutes. And yes, keep a lid on this. It’ll help
maintain even cooking throughout the plant matter, and that matters. This way,
we preserve flavor, enhance texture, and save nutrients. What nutrients? Well,
vitamins, for one. Speaking of vitamins, let’s bring in today’s guest.
Straight out of Poland, this biochemist was the first to isolate a water-soluble complex of rice, bran, micronutrients, back in 1912. He later went on to found the Funk Foundation for Medical Research. He digs on Parliament and girls who wear glasses. Give a big, fat Good Eats welcome to Kazimierz Funk! [ed. note: yes, that's his real name which has also been anglicized as Casimir, picture below]
AB: Well ...
CF: [in a Polish accent] Hello!
AB: Good to meet you, doctor.
CF: Thanks for having me on successful American TV cooking show.
AB: Of course. So you discovered vitamins.
CF: That’s what they say.
AB: Well, for our audience members at home who may not know, what exactly is a vitamin?
CF: Ooh, very simple. Vitamins are tiny organic compounds required by all living organisms, eh?
Yeah, we know now that they aid in metabolism, the conversion of fat and carbohydrates to energy, and they also assist in the creation of bone and tissue.
AB: So how did you make this astounding discovery?
CF: Oh, I discovered it was thiamine, or vitamin B1, in brown rice that cures terrible disease beriberi. I also postulated existence of vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin D, like all vitamins, can be found in food you eat.
We know now that many vitamins are actually created in the human body.
tell me about that name.
CF: Oh, Professor Funk? It’s a big... Yeah
AB: No, “Vitamin.”
CF: Oh, well, it’s short for “vital amines.” Boom! Vital amines.
That’s right. They used to think that all the vitamins contained the chemical group amines, so they called them vit-amines. We know better now, so we just call them vitamins.
AB: Now I know that, Dr. Funk, you unfortunately passed
away in 1967...
CF: Correct, yes.
AB: But do you have anything going on there in the netherworld?
CF: Oh, yes! I am trying to isolate vitamin F. Funkomine! [applause] Oh, yeah!
AB: Ah, Kazimierz Funk, ladies and gentlemen.
CF: All right, yeah! Give it to me! All right!
AB: Bye bye. Thanks for visiting.
CF: Thank you!
Now the time is up on our broccoli. And you can see it is tender yet pleasingly firm, from the top of the floret ... [realizes that the floret is hot] ... Ow! ... to the bottom of the stalk.
Now, there’s a little bit of water left in the pot. And we can turn that into a sauce simply by mixing in a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter at the last moment. Salt and pepper, of course, can be added at your discretion.
|2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter|
Now, about all that nutrition. Broccoli contains almost as much calcium as milk. It has more vitamin C in it than an orange. It also contains vitamins K and A, it’s an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate, riboflavin, iron, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. It also contains some very special antioxidants that can jump-start what’s called “phase II detoxification enzymes”, which have the power to kind of flush potentially harmful free radicals ...
HIPPIE: [camera pans to him as he air guitars an electric chord]
... from your body. And that qualifies broccoli as a bona fide super food, not to mention good eats.
AB: [to the hippie, quickly] Take a bath; cut your hair; find a job.
Over 90% of the broccoli grown in the United States hails from California.
GUESTS: Taste Bud Sock Puppets
Okay, America, let’s talk about the bitterness. Broccoli and its kin contain
compounds which are closely related to those in mustard gas, the original
[in front of a large tongue] Now most of us with an average number of taste buds find this pleasant. [taste bud sock puppets emerge on the tongue] However, about 25% of the U.S. population are considered super tasters. That means that instead of the normal complement of taste buds, their tongues house even more per square inch, and they can taste flavors more intensely than the rest of us. That makes them more sensitive to the bitter notes in broccoli.
However, there is a way around this, ...
TASTE BUD: [bites AB on the behind]
ABA: Ow! Hey!
[at the oven] Dry heat has the ability to trigger chemical changes that intensify the natural sugars in broccoli, which can balance out any possible bitterness.
|Step one, hot box, to 425. Yes, it’s a lot of heat, but it won’t be in there for long.||
Now I have a pound of broccoli here, which has been trimmed and rinsed. Now this time, we’re going to need bite-size pieces, so any florets that are more than modest mouthfuls will need to be split down. The stalks should be cut into eighth-inch-thick slices. Now we’re going to toss this with two tablespoons of olive oil, in which I have two cloves of minced garlic, one half teaspoon of kosher salt, and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Now toss that. And then we’re just going to set this aside.
1 Pound Broccoli, Trimmed &
2 Tbs. Olive Oil +
Now, changing the texture of a food can change the flavor by altering the way the taste buds perceive the chemicals involved. Adding some Japanese breadcrumbs to the occasion will do just that, and they taste darn good. Now, don’t just toss these crumbs with the broccoli. Without a little pre-toasting, they won’t brown, due to surface moisture. So spread out, I’ll say, a third of a cup of them into a 9” x 13” metal cake pan and toast in the heating oven for exactly two minutes.
|⅓ Cup Panko Breadcrumbs|
When the breadcrumbs look nice and toasty, toss them with the rest of the broccoli mixture to coat. [mixes with his hands] Ow, hot. Ah, there. Put it back in the pan, and roast another eight to ten minutes, or until the broccoli is just tender.
A study in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that microwaving broccoli reduced its antioxidant compounds by 74–97%.
Upon exiting the hot box, I like to transfer the broccoli into another bowl—kind of just to knock down the heat a little bit—and toss in a quarter of a cup of sharp cheddar cheese. Now you could use just about any cheese. You could even use Parmesan here. But I like it sharp and a little on the gooey side.
¼ Cup Sharp Cheddar Or
Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Now when this cools, you can cover and refrigerate for up to two days. It will
only get better with age. Me, though, I kind of like it when it’s on the hot
Now I realize that some folks believe that when it comes to broccoli, at least nutritionally when it comes to broccoli, that raw is really where it is at. But my problem is just that raw broccoli seems to only have one manifestation and it always seems ...
THING: [holds out a tray a letter on it]
AB: What’s this? An invitation to my neighbor’s party! Today! That’s funny, I never get invited to [looks at the address] ... Thing, this address is down the street. You know that stealing mail is a federal offense. Oh, well, maybe they’ll just let you by with a slap on the wrist. Hah hah hah.
T: [drops the tray and disappears behind the refrigerator]
Touchy little guy. Oh, well, no reason to let this go to waste.
The first clear description of broccoli or “Italian asparagus”
occurred in a 1724 English gardener’s dictionary.
GUESTS: Party Guests
[a pot luck party is being held, and people have brought various dishes, one of which is a crudités platter, AB appears outside the kitchen window as an uninvited guest and opens the window] There it is. I knew it! Wherever more than seven suburbanites are gathered, there’s going to be a crudités platter featuring raw broccoli and ... Oh! [quickly closes the window and hides as another guest walks by] Sure, it’s armed with a full complement of vitamins and minerals. But what good is that if you can’t choke it down without a tablespoon of high-fat dressing or green stuff. You know, there has to be another way, and I’m going to find it.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing the first broccoli
seeds to America from Italy (personally, I ain’t buying it).
If you ask me, the best way to make raw broccoli palatable is to think “coleslaw”. In other words, we are going to cut this broccoli wafer thin, and dress it in a sauce tangy enough to keep the salivary glands engaged throughout the eating experience.
So, we will begin with the dressing. Whisk together one tablespoon of white wine vinegar with the zest of one lemon. There we go. A tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Two teaspoons, or thereabouts, of Dijon mustard. There we go. A teaspoon of kosher salt. Close enough. And a pinch, or two of freshly ground black pepper. There. Now as soon as that is uniform, we’ll drizzle in one quarter of a cup of olive oil. Whatever kind of olive oil you like to use. That’s right, this is a standard vinaigrette procedure. Because it’s a standard vinaigrette, just extra tangy.
1 Tbs. White Wine Vinegar
Zest of One Lemon
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
Pinch of Freshly Ground
¼ Cup Olive Oil
Now, getting this really, really wafer thin is going to require the use of one of these, or something like it: a mandoline or a V-slicer. But in order to get it really on there, we will cut this down into quarters, or thereabouts. We want as much of the stem as possible. [laying it down long-ways] Stem first and, of course, as always, we will employ the hand guard. Now don’t worry. This is going to be a little bit messy, but it’s going to be worth it. Just go slowly. Since some of the pieces are still kind of on the long side, go ahead and just chop through that three or four times, a couple times in each direction. And then, move that off into your bowl right on top of the dressing. Toss and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
1 Pound Broccoli, Trimmed
Now that this has marinated, we can add a few final flavor combinations. Six ounces of either cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced. Three ounces by weight of toasted nuts. You could use pecans. I prefer hazelnuts. And two tablespoons of basil chiffonade. That’s French for “little ribbons,” you know. In they go, and toss to combine.
6 Ounces Cherry or Grape
3 Ounces Coarsely Chopped
Hazelnuts Or Pecans
2 Tbs. Basil Chiffonade
[“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” plays as AB surreptitiously returns, opens the window] Just as I suspected. Nobody touched it [the crudités platter, he then removes it and replaces it with his dish] Now, just let this sit for about 15 minutes before serving, and then just wait for a grateful world.
And so, broccoli, vindicated at last, is released from the Vegetal Hall of Horrors.
Although we can never erase those lost years of loathing, we can hope for a new day, in which children and presidents alike rightly beg for broccoli. Are there still plenty of edible monsters lurking out in the darkness? Indeed there are. But they’ll have to wait for their own episodes of Good Eats.
*Is steam hotter than boiling water? If by "hotter" he means temperature, then no. Steam and boiling water are both at 100°C (at sea level) unless the vessel is kept steam tight, i.e. in a pressure cooker. What AB meant to say (which I think he means by "technically hotter") is that it has more caloric energy or heat energy. It takes more energy to get the water molecules moving off the surface of the water and create the vapor we call steam.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010