Latin name: Brassica oleracea
Uses: vegetable

Broccoli is like the dog of vegetables. Through centuries of genetic tinkering, we humans have taken a single species and manipulated it into dozens of different forms, just as we’ve taken the wolf and altered it into everything from the chihuahua to the Great Dane. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, gai lan, and kohlrabi are all the same species, each with varying levels of suitability for pairing with cheese sauce.

Why is broccoli healthy? 

There’s a reason that broccoli is frequently used as the poster child for healthy vegetables. Its nutritional density make it a star among the famously beneficial brassica family of cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli is packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals, protect cells, and promote detoxification.

What does broccoli taste like? 

Broccoli brings a healthy amount of cruciferous punch to any party it joins, but broccolini can have a lovely grassy sweetness and tends to be less intense. Sulfur compounds give broccoli that signature mustard-like pungency, and polyphenols give it its slight bitterness. Broccoli rabe, technically another cultivar, has this bitterness turned up a notch, with a slight nuttiness that emerges when cooked in dry heat. The sulfur compounds tend to increase the longer broccoli hangs around your veggie drawer — you’ll know it's been languishing in your fridge when it greets you with the smell of dirty socks.

Where does broccoli grow? 

Brassica crops culminating in broccoli originated in the Mediterranean, with cultivars coming from Ancient Rome around 2500 years ago. Italian immigrants spread it around Europe in the 1700s and eventually brought it to North America a century later. Broccoli tends to do poorly in hot weather, but China and India still produce the bulk of the world’s supply (as winter crops), and it’s grown year-round in California.

How do I prepare broccoli and what do I pair it with? 

It bears repeating that broccoli and cheese (especially cheddar) are best mates. Put them together in rice and pasta dishes (bonus points if you add buttery breadcrumbs on top), on baked potatoes, or on grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza. Stir-frying or steaming for five minutes will brighten the color and preserve both the tender-crisp texture and pungent flavor of the vegetable, but you can also use it raw in sturdy salads, slaws and crudités.

Broccoli also benefits from a bit of acidity and other pungent flavors: grill it or sear it hard in a hot pan and toss with olive oil, garlic, a squeeze of lemon, and a pinch of chile flake. Slender-stemmed broccolini cook very quickly and make a fine stand-in for gai lan with oyster sauce and sesame oil, in the American Chinese classic beef and broccoli.

Surprising fact: 

Broccoli contains nearly twice the amount of protein per calorie as beef.