Broccolini may very well look like some sort of ‘Baby Broccoli’, or perhaps regular Broccoli that shot up a little too quickly before the ‘flower’ top grew, but it is neither of these. There is a relationship, though, and the two vegetables are similar, but broccolini tends to be a bit more delicate in texture and flavor. Accordingly, it is even enjoyed by those who don’t much care for its better-known cousin…
Broccolini is a relative newcomer to the veggie scene. It is a hybrid created by cross-breeding standard Broccoli with the related vegetable Gai Lan (which is itself sometimes called ‘Chinese Broccoli’). Development took place in Japan over an eight-year period and the result of the cross-breeding has only been available in supermarkets since the mid-1990’s.
The thin stems of broccolini are generally a good deal more tender than the thick, more robust ones of regular broccoli, and, indeed, Broccolini is sometimes referred to as ‘Tender-Stem Broccoli’. The two vegetables share some of the same sulfurous and bitter taste compounds that some people find a little off-putting, but Broccolini tends to be a bit milder and sweeter. When raw, or lightly cooked, the vegetable can have taste notes reminiscent of freshly-picked peas and some people even claim that it reminds them of fresh asparagus.
According to a number of surveys, Broccoli is most commonly prepared by steaming it, with stir-frying following up as the second-most popular cooking method. It can, of course be boiled, braised, or simmered in soups and the like, but it is becoming increasingly more popular to grill or roast the vegetable in order to capitalize on the caramelization effect. Raw, it can be eaten as a simple snack, or added to salads but, in the latter case especially, blanching the vegetable can improve its appearance, texture and taste.
As with other green vegetables, the process of blanching broccolini partially cooks it, which tenderizes the stems for eating in salads, or other cold preparations, and it reduces the cooking time when it is to be used in other dishes.
The best benefit, however, is that the process can not only help the vegetable maintain its green color during secondary cooking, but can also enhance very prettily, as you can see in the above picture.
Blanching is really nothing more than quickly parboiling in salted water. 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 more tender stems. With Broccoli, the florets and the stems usually have to be processed and cooked separately but, with Broccolini, the whole plant can be processed at the same time. Essentially, you just drop a batch in to boiling water (which will immediately lower the temperature), and then let it cook for about 1 minute for very small stems, and two minutes or so for the thicker ones.
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 and Broccolini can both 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.