Since I live in the woods under shade-throwing conifers, surrounded by dense clay soil and frequently visited by deer and other grazing wildlife, I grow most of my vegetables on a friend’s sunny property. When one of us has a favorite crop, we can risk growing a little extra, knowing that if we’re overly zealous and successful the bounty will be divided between two kitchens. This year, broccoli is on the favorite-crop list, so in May we planted 18 starts, and we’re already harvesting our first heads.
As I share this week in my Twice as Tasty column for the Flathead Beacon, the first stalks were sweet and tender, so I simply sliced them into a salad. But I’m now laying them on the grill alongside asparagus and other vegetables. Slicing broccoli down its length, from crown to stalk, creates pieces less likely to fall through the grill. When cooked over an open flame, the pieces stay crisp and crunchy inside while roasting to perfection on the exterior.
Learn more about grilling vegetables and get the complete recipe for Orange-Kissed Grilled Broccoli in my column.
One of the great things about broccoli is that the first head is far from the last. As soon as we cut off that initial head, the plant starts to produce new florets from other parts of the stalk. Production might slow at the peak of summer’s heat, and we have to stay on top of the harvest to catch the florets before they open into yellow blossoms. But by fall, we get a new round of tight little heads and can keep enjoying fresh broccoli until the first snowfall.
A downside of broccoli and other brassicas like cabbage is that they attract cabbage and Ni moths, little white and brown fliers that lay eggs on the plants and leave them to hatch into leaf- and stem-crunching larvae. The cabbageworms and cabbage loopers can work their way between broccoli florets and pack into the layers of a dense cabbage head, boring holes and killing young and established plants. Those that do survive to harvest can be so riddled with larvae and caterpillars that what remains is hard to salvage.
We’ve discovered that the best way to battle brassica pests is to not let them near the plants. By building a mini-hoop house over the bed and covering it with mosquito netting, we’ve successfully kept the pests off the plants. We built a second mini-hoop setup this year to cover another bed and expand our broccoli crop so that we can eat plenty this summer and still store some for winter months.
Twice as Tasty
My main winter broccoli use is in soup, and I discovered the hard way that broccoli tastes awful when it’s just chopped and frozen raw. Freezing alone doesn’t stop enzymes from turning brassicas bitter, so you need an extra cooking step. Water blanching is the traditional technique that keeps broccoli bright and flavorful after freezing, but I’ve come to prefer other options:
- Steam blanching. I still steam blanch broccoli when I have a large harvest. It only takes 5 minutes to blanch stems and florets and a few minutes in an bowl of cold water to stop the process.
- Grilling. I’ve found that cooking broccoli halts flavor-deteriorating enzymes, but it’s easy to overcook broccoli if your plan is to then freeze, defrost, and cook it again. Lightly grilling seems to stop the enzymes but leave the broccoli crisp. It even adds a subtle roasted flavor that comes through in soups.
- Smoking. To maximize both flavor and texture after freezing broccoli, I’ve also been smoking the vegetable. With less heat and wood chips, the broccoli still seems to be cooked enough to keep its flavor after freezing and imparts a stronger smoky taste in soups. I use the same beat-up Weber kettle grill and aim for the same 200°F maximum that I use when smoking chilies, cherries, and preroasted beets.
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