The most Italian of all vegetables may not be obvious, says Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds
Ask anyone what they think is the most Italian of all vegetables, and they will invariably say “tomato” (even though technically it is a fruit!). But actually, it is the humble broccoli – and it is in full season to sow until the end of July.
It even has an Italian name, ‘broccoli’, as in American film producer Cubby Broccoli. Cubby was born of Italian parents from Calabria, which is no accident, as traditional broccoli is from Calabria – we even call it ‘Calabrese’.
Other broccolis of note are the Puglian broccoli, cima di rapa which is also known as broccoli raab in the US. There are five varieties: 40-, 60-, 90- and 120-day and a leaf-only variety from Macerata and Fruili (Veneto). The general rule of thumb is the longer-growing the variety, the better quality the vegetable.
In the kitchen
Traditionally, cima is eaten with orecchiette pasta. Boil the cima di rapa and remove it. In the same salted water, boil the pasta. Meanwhile toss the cima di rapa in olive oil with garlic and chilli to taste, season, combine and enjoy with a bottle of Primitivo.
The most renowned broccoli in Italy is the Neapolitan friarielli broccoli which is boiled and then tossed in a hot pan with olive oil and copious amounts of chilli and served hot. But it is better known in two Neapolitan inventions: either served as a pasta sauce or as a topping on pizza – both utterly ‘delizioso’.
Friuli (in the Venice region) also boasts its own variety, but alas local production is so small that it is not available in packets for sale. Some people refer to the cauliflower 'Romanesco' as a broccoli, understandably because its flavour is nearer to a mild broccoli than a strong cauliflower.
In the garden
All of the above can be sown from now until the end of July, with the 40/60 day cima di rapa till the end of August! Always pick your broccoli when ready to eat or it could bolt, leaving you with a bunch of yellow flowers.
RHS grow your own