Trademarked brands of boutique broccoli are sprouting up on supermarket shelves, wooing us with their discreet ® symbol and not-so-discreet claims of exceptional tenderness. But any broccoli should do that job - be it familiar calabrese, trendy purple sprouting, or less common romanesco - provided it's truly fresh.
You know you've got your hands on freshly cut stuff when your nail sinks into the stalk - a sign that it will taste sweet and juicy. As the days after cutting roll by, the stalk becomes tougher, and the sweetness gradually gives way to a progressively more bitter and cabbage-like taste.
Broccoli is a vegetable best cooked very briefly (preferably steamed), or gently and for a long time - as in the classic Puglian orecchiette pasta dish with anchovies and chilli below. If steaming or boiling, it's important to dry off the broccoli in the pan, perhaps with a little butter or sesame oil.
Why is broccoli good for me?
It pays to be cynical about anything touted as a "superfood", but broccoli genuinely deserves this status thanks to its unique package of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying micronutrients. Broccoli offers high levels of immune system-boosting vitamin C, bone-strengthening vitamin K, and folate, which plays a strategic role in regulating cell growth and reproduction. It's also packed with glucosinolate compounds, such as sulforaphane and glucoraphanin, which help to fight cancer. By reducing inflammation, eating broccoli could also help lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Where to buy and what to pay
Snap up the freshly cut, summer/autumn crop at farmers' market stalls. Guide price per kg: £2.50-£2.99 (calabrese); £4 (organic); £8.65-£9.95 (purple sprouting/trademarked)
Broccoli, butterbeans and pasta
I like to cook broccoli whole and just trim up the stalk a little. I then slice it vertically, so it looks like a child's drawing of a tree, before tossing with
a dressing, cooked pasta and beans.
750g broccoli, trimmed but kept whole
400g butter beans, drained and rinsed
160g orecchiette pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
12 anchovy fillets in oil, roughly chopped
2 large chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
Generous handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Parmesan, to serve
1 Steam or cook the broccoli in a large pan of boiling salted water until it just gives a little. Remove and refresh in cold water. Don't discard the water - keep it boiling, add the pasta and a splash of olive oil, then cook for about 10 minutes or as instructed on the packet. Add the butterbeans 2 minutes before the pasta is ready.
2 In the meantime, slice the broccoli and fry the anchovies in the oil over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the anchovies start to break up.
3 Add the chilli and lemon zest, fry for 2 minutes then add the garlic. After 2 minutes, add the broccoli and toss to combine and heat through.
4 Once the pasta and beans are ready, drain, leaving a little water clinging to them. Add to the frying pan, then turn up the heat up. Stir well. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice, then add the parsley. Serve immediately with some grated parmesan sprinkled over the top.
In Picture: Broccoli: packed with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying micronutrients. Photograph: Tricia de Courcy Ling for the Guardian