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Broccoli is a member of the Brassicaceae family which also includes cauliflower, kale, cabbage, collards, turnips, rutabagas, brussel sprouts, and Chinese cabbage. These vegetables all share a common feature. Their four-petaled flowers bear the resemblance to a Greek cross, which explains why they are frequently referred to as crucifers or cruciferous vegetables.

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Broccoli should be stored in open plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a week. Since water on the surface will encourage its degradation, do not wash the broccoli before refrigerating. Broccoli that has been blanched and then frozen can stay up to a year. Leftover cooked broccoli should be placed in tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.

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Origins and Culture

The Etruscans, who migrated to Italy from Asia Minor during the 8th century BC, brought broccoli to Italy. It was the Romans who called these immigrants "Tusci" or "Etrusci" and referred to ancient Tuscany as Etruria. The Romans were enamored with broccoli almost immediately. Pliny the Elder, an Italian naturalist and writer, 23 to 79 CE, tells us the Romans grew and enjoyed broccoli during the first century AD. The vegetable became a standard favorite in Rome where the variety called Calabrese was developed. The Calabrese is the most common variety still eaten in North America today. Before the Calabrese variety was cultivated, most Romans were eating purple sprouting broccoli that turned green when cooked. In a gourmet flash from the past, Apicius, the beloved cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then bruising it "with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine."

Although broccoli entered the United States more that 200 years ago, it was not adopted into popular circles until the D'Arrigo brothers, immigrants from Messina, Italy, came to the U.S. along with their broccoli seeds. The D'Arrigo Brothers Company began with some trial plantings in San Jose, C.A. in 1922. Meeting with success, they advertised by supporting a radio program and featured ads for broccoli on the station. By the 1930s the country was having a love affair with broccoli and people were convinced that it was a newly developed plant.

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Nutritional and Medicinal Properties

Broccoli contains glucosinolates, phytochemicals which break down to compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates (such as sulphoraphane). Broccoli also contains the carotenoid, lutein. Broccoli is an excellent source of the vitamins K, C, and A, as well as folate and fiber. Broccoli is a very good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and the vitamins B6 and E.

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Basic Cooking Instructions

Broccoli is great eaten raw but lovely when steamed. At just the tender point, the broccoli will retain its brilliant green and actually increase in nutrient value. You can also stir fry chopped broccoli with olive oil, sesame oil or broth and flavour with Bragg or tamari, lemon or lime juice, and add your favourite herb.

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