Broccoli has been called one of “the world’s healthiest foods” (whfoods.org). Low in calories and high in vitamins, the list of reasons to eat broccoli is long and would take pages to explain. President Thomas Jefferson loved broccoli, and planted imported seeds from Italy at his Monticello estate. If you’d like to join Thomas Jefferson, here are a few tips for growing broccoli to keep in mind:
1. Temperature is important
- Broccoli needs cool weather. Broccoli grown during cool weather will have a sweeter flavor than its warm weather counterpart.
- Select a variety best suited to your climate that will mature before hot weather begins.
- Start broccoli seeds 8 weeks before the last spring frost or 12 weeks before the first fall frost.
- Grow seedlings at 60°F – 80°F.
- In warm areas like Arizona, broccoli is grown in the late fall and winter months.
- In the low desert of Arizona plant broccoli seeds outside from late August – December and plant broccoli transplants from October – January
- Although it likes cooler temperatures, broccoli needs at least 6 hours of sun.
- Broccoli likes rich, slightly-acidic soil that is high in organic matter.
- Space plants about a foot apart. For square foot gardening, allow one square per plant. Plant seeds ½ inch deep.
- Broccoli starts can be both crooked and floppy, so plant them deeply with first true leaves at soil level.
- Firm the soil around broccoli starts, and water well.
- Provide consistent moisture and even watering. Don’t get heads wet when watering.
- Plant at 3 week intervals for a continual harvest through the cooler months.
3. Varieties to try
- Don’t wait too long to harvest. Harvest as soon as thr head appears full and tight, when tiny buds are tightly closed, before any yellow flowers appear.
- Harvest in the morning for best flavor.
- Use a sharp knife to cut at an angle 5-8 inches below the head. Cutting at an angle allows water to drain off rather than puddling on the remaining stem.
- In many varieties, bite-sized side shoots will form after main head is harvested.
5. Storing and preparing
- When you are ready to eat the broccoli, rinse the head under running water.
- If cabbage worms are present, soak the head in cold salted water for 30 minutes.
- Raw broccoli retains all of the nutrients but can be difficult to digest.
- Cooking broccoli by steaming, stir-frying, or microwaving allows it to retain more of its nutrients than does boiling.
- Broccoli tastes best when cooked to tender-crisp and it is bright green.
- Unwashed broccoli wrapped in plastic will keep for about a week in the fridge, or blanch and freeze it for up to a year.
- 4 to 5 pounds broccoli
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- Good olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut the broccoli florets from the thick stalks, leaving an inch or two of stalk attached to the florets, discarding the rest of the stalks. Cut the larger pieces through the base of the head with a small knife, pulling the florets apart. You should have about 8 cups of florets. Place the broccoli florets on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Toss the garlic on the broccoli and drizzle with 5 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned.
Remove the broccoli from the oven and immediately toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice, pine nuts, Parmesan, and basil. Serve hot.