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Broccoli: a cool (weather) crop that keeps on giving

Broccoli is an easy to grow crop that continues to produce late in the growing season in Michigan. If you’d planted broccoli this summer, you could be having this for dinner, even in late October:

Broccoli is an attractive, sturdy plant that likes full sun, adequate water and good drainage. The main stem holds the plant upright, and staking is not necessary. We’ve found that broccoli has very few pests or growing problems. Our usual cultural practices of close planting, rotating crops, heavy mulching, and monitoring for pests work well for broccoli.

One of the cool things about broccoli is its productivity. You can usually harvest a good central head in August, depending on planting time and weather conditions, but your broccoli plant is not yet done. If you let the plant continue to grow, you’ll be able to harvest a succession of florets of various sizes from around the main stem.

One strategy I’ve learned for continuing broccoli growth is to examine the plant regularly for flowering or bolting. If too much time lapses, the side stems can go to flower; the delicious green buds become rather pretty yellow flowers that do attract pollinators like bees but are not what I want to eat. Broccoli is fairly forgiving, however. If flowers are trimmed off, the plant will return to making small broccoli heads. Broccoli can also bolt if the weather gets too hot, although it seems pretty tolerant of Michigan’s sometimes toasty summers. Again, if a plant starts sending up long bolting shoots, those can be trimmed and eaten, and the plant will return to its small head production. The plant gets rather leafy late in the season, so be sure to check under and behind leaves for buds.

Broccoli from the garden is best eaten raw or lightly steamed. Even the smaller leaves can be eaten as they are tender and delicious on homegrown broccoli plants. We generally avoid turning our wonderful, healthy broccoli into cheesy or creamy dishes and instead enjoy its flavors and nuances in simpler dishes.

Sometimes we like to dress-up steamed broccoli with a quick, easy and healthy dressing. Here are two of our favorites. Both start with broccoli either steamed or light boiled for 2 minutes then cooled under cold running water and drained.

Honey Mustard Dressing
(from Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish: 150 Easy, Low-Fat, High-Flavor Recipes)

1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mustard, preferably Dijon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water
pinch black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend.

Dress broccoli just before eating because the sauce will dull the broccoli’s bright green color.

Broccoli Chinoise Dressing
(from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book)

2 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil
¼ cup rice vinegar or white whine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
fresh ground black pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste

Combine the ingredients and pour over the broccoli. Toss to mix well.

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