For fresh broccoli to taste its best, it must be picked young. When left growing too long (or stored too long after harvesting), the plant begins converting its sugar to lignin, a type of fiber that cannot be softened by cooking. Overly mature broccoli, no matter how it’s prepared, will be tough and woody and have an unpleasantly strong cabbagy odor.
Examine the stalks attached to the florets. They should be on the slender side and so crisp that if you broke one, it would snap clean. The florets should be tightly closed and have no yellowing florets, which are a sign that the broccoli is past its prime. Good color also indicates nutritional quality.
The leaves, if any, should have good color and not appear wilted. Avoid broccoli with soft slippery spots on the florets or with stalk bottoms that are brown or slimy. Fresh broccoli has a clean smell.
Broccolini, gai-lan, broccoflower, purple broccoli, and rapini should all have firm, crisp stems, without any slime. The leaves should be deep green and crisp as well, and the heads of the heading types should be tight.
How to store broccoli at home
Refrigeration slows the conversion of sugar to lignin and also protects vitamin C content. Do not wash broccoli before storing it; although it needs moisture to remain fresh, any water on its surface will encourage the growth of mold.
How to cook and use broccoli
Very fresh, young broccoli can be served raw as an hors d’oeuvre or in salads. Its taste and texture don’t agree with all palates, however; in general, most people prefer broccoli cooked. If you’d like to serve broccoli raw, broccolini might be a better choice.
Whichever way you serve broccoli, first rinse it thoroughly under cold running water to remove surface dirt. If you see dirt embedded in the florets, soak the broccoli in cold water for several minutes to flush it out.
Most people cut off and discard the leaves; however, they are edible and contain even more beta carotene than the florets. If you decide to remove the leaves, consider using them in soups, purées, or stir-fries.
If you wish, peel the stalks—which get tougher the longer you keep the broccoli—but remove only a thin layer to preserve the nutrients.
Because the florets of broccoli tend to cook much faster than the stalks, either split the stalks about halfway up or cut an “X” in the bottom of each stalk. Another option is to cut off the florets and add them to the pot after the stalks have cooked for two or three minutes. You can also cut both the florets and the stalks into smaller pieces for fast, even cooking.
Broccolini and gai-lan can be eaten from stem to flower. Broccoflower and purple broccoli should be treated like broccoli. Rapini should be trimmed at the bottom, to remove the very tough ends. Any very large or damaged leaves should be discarded as well.
7 recipe ideas for broccoli
- Sauté broccoli or rapini—along with peeled and sliced garlic if you like—in a small amount of olive oil and serve as is or tossed with pasta.
- Toss broccoli in a bit of olive oil, then roast and serve with fresh parmesan cheese.
- Toss sautéed gai-lan or rapini with raisins or sun-dried tomatoes and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Their bitterness pairs nicely with the sweetness of dried fruit.
- Puree cooked broccoli. Add chicken broth and seasonings for a quick broccoli soup.
- Make a raw broccoli slaw salad.
- Top a pizza with raw or cooked broccoli.
- Add broccoli, gai-lan, rapini, broccolini, broccoflower, or purple broccoli to sautées and stir-fries.