Have you ever heard of eating broccoli leaves? Surprisingly, they are not only edible but also incredibly delicious. As a seasoned chef, I thought I knew everything about the world of vegetables until I stumbled upon some farm-grown broccoli leaves in a garden. And it got me thinking, why are these leaves not commonly sold, and why aren’t we all cooking with them?
Before that moment, I had always associated broccoli with its flowering portion, the florets. Little did I know that there was so much more to this versatile plant. When you start cooking with broccoli leaves, you’ll discover a whole new world of flavors and possibilities. These leafy greens can be treated just like other sturdy dark greens such as kale or collards.
All Brassica Leaves Are Edible
What makes broccoli leaves even more fascinating is that they are part of the Brassica oleracea family, which includes various other edible plants. From collard greens to mustard greens, cabbage to Brussels sprouts, you can eat all the leaves from these plants. It’s like a culinary adventure waiting to happen!
Meet Italian Spigarielo
Italians have been enjoying broccoli greens for ages. In fact, they have specific varieties of broccoli grown solely for their leaves, known as spigariello or leaf broccoli. These special plants, scientifically named Brassica oleracea variation italia, offer a unique twist on traditional broccoli. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try growing them yourself with easily available online seeds.
When it comes to harvesting broccoli leaves, there are a few things to keep in mind. Since these plants rely on their wide, floppy leaves to catch sunlight, it’s crucial not to harvest too many leaves early in the growing season. This ensures that the plants have enough energy to develop those beautiful florets we all love.
For the sweetest and most flavorful leaves, wait until after a frost to harvest. Brassicas are cold-hardy crops, and when exposed to cold temperatures, they convert simple starches into sugars, enhancing their taste. Multiple hard frosts provide the best results, so patience is key.
Now, let’s dive into the exciting part: cooking with broccoli leaves! These versatile greens can be prepared in various ways, adding a delightful twist to your meals. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
You can enjoy broccoli leaves as a raw salad. Simply cut them into fine shreds, also known as chiffonade, and toss them with your favorite dressing. It’s a refreshing and vibrant dish that showcases the natural flavors of the leaves.
Steaming broccoli leaves is another fantastic option. After removing the stems, cut the leaves into pieces and steam them for a short time until they are tender and vibrant green. Be careful not to overcook them to preserve their freshness and taste.
Similar to grape leaves, broccoli leaves can be blanched and used as a flavorful wrapper. They are more tender than grape leaves, allowing you to create larger rolls filled with your favorite ingredients.
If you prefer not to blanch the leaves, you can try a freeze-wilting technique. Simply place the leaves in the freezer until they become firm, then thaw them. This process mimics blanching without excess water, preserving the taste and texture of the leaves.
Expand Your Culinary Horizons
Eating broccoli leaves opens up a whole new world of culinary delights. Whether you choose to make a simple salad, steam them to perfection, or use them as creative wrappers, these greens bring a fresh and exciting twist to your meals. Don’t limit yourself to the usual broccoli florets; instead, embrace the rich flavors and textures of the entire plant.
So, the next time you’re at the grocery store or exploring your local farmer’s market, keep an eye out for broccoli leaves—it’s your gateway to a delightful culinary adventure!
For more information about broccoli leaves and where to find them, visit Ames Farm Center.
Images sourced from Forager Chef.