Got fresh broccoli? Make the most of spring harvest with this guide for this sometimes unappreciated vegetable.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
Broccoli has a reputation for being disliked by many people, especially those of us who remember the dreaded “eat your greens” command at the dinner table. While the versatile vegetable provides numerous health benefits, many consider it bland or unappetizing because it was frequently overcooked, up until the 1960s. With a little creativity in the kitchen, you can find that wonderful intersection of extremely good for you and delicious. Whether you’re a broccoli lover or hater, this broccoli guide will put you on the path to delicious green living.
Broccoli is actually Italian. The name comes from the word broccolo, which means “the flowering top of a cabbage.” Italian immigrants first introduced broccoli to the United States in the 1800s, but it didn’t become a household staple until the 1960s with the availability of frozen vegetables.
Eat your greens
It’s no secret that broccoli is good for you. It ranks among the top 20 foods in the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It’s low in digestible carbohydrates but provides a decent amount of fiber, which promotes gut health and may reduce the risk of various diseases. It contains many vitamins and minerals, including folate, potassium, manganese and vitamins C and K. It also is high in many plant compounds associated with health benefits; the most abundant being sulforaphane, which may protect against certain types of cancer. Broccoli’s isothiocyanates may improve many risk factors for disease and reduce your risk of cancer. Moreover, this vegetable may help lower cholesterol and boost eye health.
What to look for
- Fresh, healthy broccoli is a rich green with no spots or discoloration.
- The flower buds (the top part) should be tightly closed and a rich green.
- Check the stem for cracks or signs of dryness. Broccoli stems should be moist and fresh.
- Broccoli that has gone bad will have an altered color, smell and texture.
Plant some (mini) trees
Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable suited to both spring and fall. Timing and temperature are critical for successful growth, especially in the Lowcountry. The ideal growing temperature range is 65 to 80 degrees. Broccoli can be planted in containers or in a traditional garden. Space broccoli plants around 18 inches apart in a location with full sun near easy access to water and fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Keep the soil moist by giving the plants 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water weekly. Harvest broccoli when the center crown contains tiny, green, tightly packed buds. When you see a flower head beginning to form in the center of the plant, check its growth daily. Ideally you harvest broccoli while the tiny buds are tightly closed. If the flower petals begin to swell or show yellow, cut the head from the stem immediately, no matter how small, because the opening buds have a mealy texture. After cutting the main head, leave the plant to grow bite-sized side shoots in the axils of the leaves.
The best place to store fresh broccoli is in the refrigerator, but like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli likes having room to breathe. Keep it in a loosely wrapped or perforated plastic bag so it will still get some air circulation. Don’t wash your broccoli before storing it. The excess moisture may cause mold growth. Wait until right before you eat broccoli to clean it. Use within 3 to 5 days after purchase.
To store cooked broccoli, put it in a shallow, airtight container, or securely wrap it in foil before storing it in the fridge. If properly stored, it will keep for 3 to 5 days.
Freezing is also an option if you’re in a time crunch. Cut the broccoli into florets, and boil for 3 minutes or until soft. Remove the cooked broccoli using tongs, and transfer it to a bowl of iced water. Arrange the broccoli onto a sheet pan, and freeze until solid. Then transfer to a labeled freezer-safe bag. It will keep for up to a year.
Where to get fresh broccoli
Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown broccoli from noon to 5 p.m., Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton.
Roadside markets: Certified roadside markets such as Dempsey Farms and Pasture Shed Farm are good sources for fresh spring produce.
Supermarkets: Our favorite spots for broccoli are Fresh Market, Publix, Whole Foods and Kroger.
If you love tater tots but hate how unhealthy they are, this recipe is for you. This healthier alternative to tater tots is easy to make and so delicious. You won’t even know it’s broccoli.
12 ounces broccoli, cut into small florets
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
2 cloves large garlic, finely diced
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons Sriracha, optional but recommended
 Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Season with salt. Blanch the broccoli in boiling water for about two minutes.  Drain and finely chop the cooked broccoli.  Add broccoli, scallions, garlic, cheese, egg and bread crumbs in a mixing bowl. Optional: Add hot sauce of choice. Mix well and chill in the refrigerator for 15–20 minutes.  Heat oven to 400. Spray a nonstick baking sheet with nonstick spray. Shape the mixture into tot shapes and spread them evenly on the sheet.  Bake for 8–9 minutes. Flip and then bake for an additional 8–9 minutes on the other side until golden brown.
Mawmaw Coffey’s Broccoli Casserole
This recipe is a family favorite. My grandmother Margaret Coffey always made this; it was a staple in my house growing up. It’s easy, delicious and the perfect addition to any Southern meal.
2 bunches broccoli florets
1 egg, beaten
1/2 stick butter, in small pieces
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 can cream of celery soup
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
 Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Boil broccoli for 2 minutes in a large pot of water. Drain well. After cooling, chop the broccoli into smaller pieces.  In a casserole dish, mix all ingredients. Sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake for 1 hour.