Given the appearance of Broccolini, and the clear ‘diminutive’ suffix on the name, most would be excused for thinking that this product is simply an immature Broccoli … or a ‘Baby Broccoli’ as it is sometimes known. In fact, it is actually a hybrid, or cross-breed, of the more standard vegetable and the leafy, but slender-staled Gai Lan, which is one of my favorite greens. Indeed, from a distance, and with my aging eyesight, I thought this Broccolini was Gai Lan when I first saw it and I might have been disappointed if I didn’t know that the hybrid can be every bit as good …
I generally like to blanch greens before use as it improves the finished appearance and can cut down on the secondary cooking time a little, thus preserving both color and texture. Some add oil to blanching water, but I just chuck in a good few pinches of coarse salt just before the water comes to a boil.
What I like about Broccolini, as opposed to its more robust cousin, is the slender, and thus tender stems. With Broccoli, I find that the florets and the stems usually have to be processed and cooked separately but, with Broccolini, on the other hand, it can be treated much more like Gai Lan and be served in similar ways.
Always plunge your greens into very cold water after blanching so as to arrest the cooking processes. If I am going to be using the greens the same day, or perhaps even not until the next day, I may just leave the greens on the soaking water in the fridge.
If I have just purchased certain green vegetables and don’t plan to use them until later in the week, I still often blanch them as soon as I get them home. Broccoli, for instance, can get a bit tired looking after 4 or 5 days waiting to be used but blanching and keeping greens tightly wrapped in the fridge can keep them fresh looking very nicely. You can do the same if you want to freeze for longer periods but, in that case, it is best to remove as much air from the freezer bags as possible.
Anyway, the stems of Broccolini are lovely and tender when cooked just right and they have a wonderful sweetness that one would associate more with fresh young peas rather than Broccoli. Personally, I prefer the leafy heads of Gai Lan than the florets but the difference is inconsequential, really.