Baby broccoli produces smaller central heads with longer, thinner stalks than heading broccoli. Several stalks emerge from the central head once it has been harvested and the plant continues to produce dozens of side shoots of nearly equal size over an extended period. The thin stalks are 5 to 9 centimeters long topped with loose florets. Baby broccoli has a tender texture and offers a mild, sweet flavor with subtle bitter notes. The entire plant is edible.
Baby broccoli are available in the winter and through late spring months.
Baby broccoli, also known as Sprouting Calabrese broccoli, is scientifically classified as Brassica oleracea var. italica. Broccoli comes in two common forms: Sprouting broccoli and heading broccoli, which is also known as cauliflower broccoli, as its shape resembles the same dense curd shape as cauliflower. Baby broccoli is often confused for broccolini, which is a hybrid of two Brassica species and is unrelated to the heirloom, Italian Calabrese broccoli variety.
Baby broccoli is a great source of vitamins A, C and K and is a good source of folate, B-complex vitamins, iron and manganese. It is also a source of potassium, fiber, protein and calcium, copper, selenium, magnesium, and trace amounts of zinc and sodium. The cruciferous vegetable also contains beneficial antioxidants in the forms of carotenoids, phytonutrients and the flavonoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
Baby broccoli is prepared much like heading broccoli and is sautéed, steamed, roasted, grilled and fried. The stalks and florets are more tender than heading broccoli and cook faster. They are used raw as an appetizer, dipped in sauces or hummus or grilled and wrapped with prosciutto. Stalks are cut into shorter lengths and added to pasta and risotto dishes or used as pizza toppings. Baby broccoli pairs well with garlic, dried chiles, butter, light-bodied vinegars, lemon, cured meats, and flaky white fish. Baby broccoli can be blanched and pureed for soups, sauces and dips. The sprouting florets can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, while blanched florets can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Broccoli means “little sprouts” in Italian. In Italy, the word broccoli is used to refer to the floral shoots on any type of brassica plant, including cabbages and turnips.
Baby broccoli is native to Italy but has its origins in the western Mediterranean region and Middle East. The variety is named for the Italian province of Calabria, where it is a part of many local dishes. Italian immigrants brought seeds for Sprouting broccoli to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries where a commercial market was eventually established. Baby broccoli is commonplace in Italy and at farmers markets and some grocers in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. In Italy and Britain, Baby broccoli is sold under the name Calabrese broccoli or Sprouting broccoli.