I was walking through the gardens at the farm, clipping some weeds to eat in between the rows of broccoli. I’d cooked nice farm broccoli and commodity broccoli over the course of my career, and I knew that the commodity stuff would generally have larger heads and less flavor, but I’d never really stopped to look at a broccoli plant grow before.
At first, looking at the plants from a distance, I thought they were kale, since more than anything, there were leaves. Lots and lots of leaves.
I thought to myself, why have I never seen broccoli leaves for sale, and if there are so many leaves on the plant, why am I not cooking with them?
I swear, every time I walk through a garden, it seems like I find a new thing to eat.
Throughout my life, I’d been trained by media campaigns and giant food companies to think of broccoli (as with so many other vegetables) as only the flowering portion of the plant, since that’s technically what “florets” are. The florets of high quality broccoli are great, no doubt about that, but there’s a lot more to broccoli, as you’ll discover when you start cooking the leaves, which you can handle much as you would kale, collards, or any other sturdy dark greens. You can of course cook with stems too, via a slightly different technique I’ll share in another post.
On another note, there’s a type of broccoli that is actually grown exclusively for it’s stems called spigariello, apparently Italians have been cooking with it for a long time. My friends at Dragsmith farm grow it near Barron Wisconsin, and it’s excellent, seeds are easily ordered online.
The recipe below recently got a shout out from one of my favorite podcasts, The Living Experiment. Like me, they tend to defy convention, and ask plenty of interesting questions. Check them out.
Broccoli Leaves with Garlic and Lemon
The only thing to know about cooking these is that you need to remove the stem. Just like collard greens and kale, they require a gentle braise.
Serves 2 as a side dish
- 8 packed cups of broccoli leaves, stems removed, leaves cut into 1 inch strips, rinsed and dried
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh wedges of lemon, to taste
- 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
- Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of water or dry white wine
Warm the garlic and oil in a 10 inch or larger saute pan or cast iron skillet and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic is aromatic, nutty smelling, and light brown. Add the crushed red pepper and broccoli leaves to the pan along with the tablespoon of water or wine and cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the broccoli leaves to evenly wilt them, season to taste with salt, then put the lid back on and cook a few minutes more until they’re as tender as you’d like. If the pan looks dry, add another spoonful of water to prevent it from drying out. When the leaves are tender, double check the seasoning and adjust as needed, then remove with tongs or a slotted spoon to prevent juice from leaking onto your plate. Serve with lemon wedges and more olive oil for drizzling alongside.