Yes, you can eat broccoli leaves, and they're delicious, but even as a veteran chef, until I met some farm broccoli growing in a garden I didn't know about them at all.
I was walking through one of the large gardens at my girlfriend's family farm, clipping some weeds (purslane, amaranth) to bring to the restaurant that grow in between the rows of broccoli.
I'd cooked both nice farm broccoli and commodity over the course of my career, and I knew that the mass-produced stuff would generally have larger heads, 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? Why is everyone not cooking with them?
I swear, every time I walk through a garden, it seems like I find a new part of a plant to eat.
There's more to broccoli than what's at the store
Throughout my life as a chef and consumer, 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—literally a giant cluster of unopened flowers (broccoli flowers, when opened, are edible, and tasty too).
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 greens, which you can handle much as you would kale, collards, or any other sturdy dark greens.
All Brassica leaves, flowers, stems, and stalks are edible
Both the broccoli with the large leaves pictured and common broccoli are both Brassica oleracea, and using the scientific name can reveal plenty of other common garden plants with different edible parts.
The Brassicas are a genus of plants that include many different edibles we enjoy, from collard greens (Brassica oleracea var. viridis) to mustard greens (Brassica nigra and many others) to cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), and on and on.
Kohlrabi leaves? (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes) yep, you can eat those too. Giant Brussels sprout leaves? (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera) Sweet and delicious! Simply put, you can eat all of the leaves of every brassica that I know of. Isn't science fun?
Broccoli greens have been eaten by Italians for a long time, in fact they actually have a couple different types of broccoli grown only for the leaves called spigariello, also known as leaf broccoli, spig kale, spigariello liscia. The plant is still Brassica oleracea, but has the name "variation italia" tacked on the end).
My friends at Dragsmith Farm grow leaf broccoli near Barron Wisconsin I used to order it by the 25# case. Seeds are easily found online for planting, too (see link at the bottom of the page).
Take only a few leaves from each plant
Broccoli and other Brassicas have wide, floppy leaves for a reason: they're specially designed by nature to catch the sunlight to give the plant energy. If you harvest too many leaves early in the growing season, you could stunt the plants growth and prevent yourself from getting broccoli florets.
If you grow species of broccoli specifically designed for their leaves like spigariello or other broccoli leaves, like the kinds you'll find in deer plot seed mix, this is less of an issue since the plants won't use their energy to develop flower stalks.
Pick after a frost for the sweetest leaves
Broccoli leaves and other brassicas are cold-hardy crops, meaning they can take more cool temperatures than something like lettuce, say. A good piece of science-based folk knowledge is to harvest broccoli after a frost.
What happens is that the plant doesn't want to freeze, so, when it's exposed to cold temperatures, it converts simple starches into sugars, since sugar resists freezing (adding sugar to cream helps keeps ice cream soft, for example).
That being said, to really notice a difference in taste, you'll want to harvest the greens after multiple hard frosts, not just one. Quick side note: spring-dug parsnips and carrots left in the ground to overwinter also benefit from the same effect.
Treat like collard greens
Think of cooking and eating broccoli leaves just like you would any other firm, sturdy leafy green like collards or kale.
Remove the stem
I clip the leaves with a small knife or scissors, then I bring them back to the kitchen and strip the midrib/stem out of each leaf.
Cutting into Chiffonade/shredding
Broccoli leaves can make a good raw salad. One of my favorite ways to do it is to cut them into fine shreds, or chiffonade.
Steaming is another good thing to do with these. Remove the ribs, then cut into pieces and steam for 30 seconds, or until they're tender and taste good to you. I like mine to be fresh and vibrant green—not overcooked. Cooking time will depend on the age of your leaves and your personal taste though.
Using leaves as a wrapper (Dolmas)
Just like grape leaves, broccoli leaves can be blanched and stuffed. They're more tender than grape leaves and can be used to make large rolls.
If you don't want to blanch the greens, you can also put them in a freezer just until they're firm, then thaw, which does the same thing as blanching without using excess water (you don't get the salt either though, so the shelf life will only be a few days).
Steamed Broccoli Leaf "Caesar"
- 8 oz broccoli leaves, ribs removed and cut into large squares
- 2 Tablespoons Anchovy vinaigrette or to taste
- High quality parmesan grated, peeled, shaved--your choice
- Fresh ground black pepper for serving
- Put the trimmed broccoli leaves into a pot with a steamer basket, turn the heat to high, cover and cook for 30 seconds, or until the leaves are just barely tender.
- The leaves should be bright green and vibrant. I like them a little crunchy still and full of life.
- Remove the steamed leaves to a salad bowl and toss with some of the dressing to taste, or serve in small salad bowls and let guests dress the leaves to their taste. Pass the parmesan and fresh black pepper alongside.
Broccoli Greens with Garlic and Lemon
- 8 oz (8 cups) 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 thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon of water or dry white wine optional
- 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 greens 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 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.
Intro to Broccoli Greens
Deer food plots=more than animal food
If you have some extra land, and, say, have hunters that rent from you, or like to hunt yourself, consider planting a deer food plot with a brassica seed blend. These commonly contain varieties of leaf broccoli, as well as delicious turnips, radishes, and mustard greens you and animals can eat.
This is a great way to have a "low-maintenace" garden to produce extra food, and, if you eat meat or want to attract hunters to lease your land, rest assured, the deer will come. You'll be shocked how much food one bag of seed mix can produce for you and wild animals. Brassica Deer Food Plot Seed Blend (Includes leaf broccoli)
Spigariello / Leaf Broccoli Seeds
Calabrese Broccoli Seeds (Broccoli leaves shown in this post)
Broccoli and kale are the same plant beer with different traits! Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and cabbage too!
Can you kohlrabi leaves?
Love this, sounds delicious! My broccoli hardly ever flowers, so I've taken to eating the leaves.
Did not know what treasure I had. Once again thanks Alan
Additionally, I find kohlrabi leaves are very tasty. I prefer the bulb uncooked with served with hummus, but the star of the plant is the leaves cooked similar to this recipe.
In 03'-04' there was in a farmer in southern California that had fields of broccoli growing that did not mind people going into it after his workers got his out of it for market. Plenty of leaves there to play with, that I got more of than broccoli itself. Cooked some in bacon grease and fell in love with the taste, even with the stem left in, it just added a crunch to it that i liked. After that it was olive oil and wine most of the time served over wild rice, it was a meal all its own that we enjoyed. Thank You for the memory!
My broccoli didn't really sprout this year, even though it grew huge. I left it in my garden to see what would happen. We've had temps dip into the teens, so we've had some good freezes. The broccoli plants are starting to look limp. Do you think it's too late to eat the leaves and stems, or did the weather just pre soften it for me?
I just cut a bunch two days ago. Most of the leaves were wilted, but they cooked up great. Hearty greens like broccoli and kale can stand a freeze well.
The Italian broccoli are to die for! Once I got accustomed to how good bitter could actually be, with the right "companion leaves," I started letting things bolt and created salads in my mouth as I weeded. It's AMAZING what's out there hiding from our taste buds.
Interesting post. We had some issues with the broccoli in our church garden this past spring, probably because we got it in the ground too late. Anyway, it ended up mostly producing greens. I suggested taking the greens to the food pantry that we serve to be used as cooked greens, and they ended up being very popular. A few weeks ago, I saw some organic broccoli greens in a local grocery store, and they were crazy expensive- creative marketing for something a lot of people throw in the compost heap. Being a big fan of wild greens in addition to the various domestic greens (collards, kale, turnip, mustard, etc.), it would never occur to me to throw them out. This recipe looks great, BTW.
I always go for the leafy broccoli. The leaves are like meaty, tender kale. Kohlrabi greens too.
Do you crush the garlic or cook it whole ?
Hi Mike. Thanks for pointing that out. I've had some issues with small tidbits missing from recipes from a tech issue. The garlic is thinly sliced and cooked until lightly nut brown--the Italian preparation called "en padella".
Ur a dreadful choad
You weren’t forced or trained by companies to hate broccoli. Take some fucking responsibility! Go back and watch more YouTube pseudoscience vids. I've always loved broccoli, even though my dad kiss me if I didn’t eat.
Hey Choad, wow, thanks for the 5-star rating! I hope you get everything figured out with your dad. A
Your reply. Hahahahaha.
Sometimes it be like that
the broccoli plants we have do not have crowns, how to eat the plant leaves, raw as salad or cook ?
Thanks, I will be out cutting leaves in my Garden when I get up tomorrow!
Awesome! I cooked them all the time in Italy, for my kids too who loved them this way. Although i actually like cooking them a little crispy at the end.
We called the stalky ones "Spigarello in Padella".
Spig is actually a different type of broccoli grown specifically for it's leave. All are great.
I just harvested 3 lbs of leaves and will try this recipe.
Just strip the ribs out and you'll be good. I'm picking some more tonight. Cut into fine shreds is also a great way to cook them.
I live in Ireland and soon we have a season where we get this beautiful purple sprouting broccoli and the leaves are fab! I love to fry them both together in cast iron in a little bit of oil and sometimes press them with a heavy pot lid. Then add lots of garlic, kalamata olives and tuna - a bit more olive oil and serve over some nice quality pasta! I never get tired off it!
That sounds great.
Will Frost kill broccoli?
Not at first, at the beggining of the cold season the frost will make it sweeter as the cold forces the plant to convert carbohydrates to sugars which help prevent freezing. Multiple freezes will eventually kill it, but you have a good window to continue harvesting.
A whole two years later~ I discover your food blog!!! i would never have guessed that you could cook broccoli leaves like greens!!!! i am sooo going to do this. Thank you for the inspiration! 🙂
Thanks Leesa. Yeah I love broccoli leaves. Spigariello is even better.
You've written «cold-hearty» when you meant «cold-hardy».
Thanks for the copy edit. 🙂
I find broccolini leaves plentiful but so bland I don't like eating them. I'm used to kale and chard which have delightful flavors. What can I do, other than the recipes you present, to increase their taste? Does anyone else experience them as lacking any recognizable flavor?
They taste good to me, mild, like broccoli. Try just steaming them and napping with some butter, salt, and a squeeze of lemon at the table. Or use them in a blend of cooked greens, along with your kale and chard.
You can eat the leaves what about the stalk ?
If it's tender, yes.
Thank you for this great article. I have huge Brussels sprout and Broccoli leaves. I’m looking forward to eating the leaves.
Glad you have some. These are a really underused green. You'd like spigariello too.