The name broccoli comes from the Italian word for "cabbage sprout." Broccoli is a member of the Brassica Family (that well stocked family of cabbage, kale, brussle sprouts, and bok choy, to name a few) and evolved from wild cabbage over 2,000 years ago.
Mediterranean in origin, broccoli was bread from a distant relative of the cabbage by the Etruscans (considered, as a people, to be horticultural geniuses). It spread though out the Near East where it was appreciated for its edible flower heads. When first introduced in England, broccoli was referred to as "Italian asparagus." Broccoli was introduced to the United States in colonial times, popularized by Italian immigrants who brought their prized vegetable with them to the New World. Commercial production of broccoli dates back to the 1500’s, though it did not become popular in the Unites States until the early 1920’s. One of the most popular types of broccoli sold in North America today is known as Calabrese (or "Italian green"), named after the province of Calabria where it first grew.
Like the artichoke, broccoli is essentially a large edible flower. This deep emerald-green vegetable (sometimes with a purple tinge) comes in tight clusters of tiny buds that grow from edible stems. Dark green leaves surround the mass of flower heads and it all sits, tree-like, atop a stout stalk.
The stalks and florets can both be eaten raw or cooked, as with the leaves. The healthiest way to cook broccoli is by sticking to a low cooking temperature, including steaming or boiling at up to 100˚C for no more than five minutes. Since the stems are more fibrous, start cooking them before adding the florets, to avoid overcooking.
Store broccoli in a plastic bag, removing as much air as possible. Stored in the refrigerator, it will keep for ten days. Do not wash broccoli before storing because exposure to water before storage will encourage spoilage. Since the vitamin C content starts to quickly degrade once broccoli has been cut, it is best to use it within a couple days.
Broccoli is rich in calcium and has antioxidant properties, generally associated with cancer prevention. It’s no coincidence that more than 300 research studies on broccoli have converged on the relationship between broccoli and its positive effects on three metabolic problems: chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate detoxification. Broccoli is high in vitamin C as well as dietary fiber and calcium. It has beneficial antiviral and antibiotic properties.