Apart from being a nutritious green veggie that makes a great side dish, what is baby broccoli? Also known under the trademark broccolini, baby broccoli is actually a hybrid of broccoli and gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) developed in 1993. It inherited the long, skinny stem of gai-lan but shares broccoli’s multiple dense florets. When it comes to deciding between baby broccoli vs broccoli, it’s worth knowing that the baby version packs almost four times more vitamin A than broccoli, is high in essential minerals, and has enough health benefits to be considered a superfood.
As with all fresh produce, it’s best to wash your baby broccoli before use. A simple rinse under the cold tap should be enough to remove any residual dirt. You can use the pad of your thumb to separate those tightly-packed florets to really give it a good wash. Since this veggie is more tender and less bitter than broccoli, there’s no need to remove the fibre-rich stem – just trim off a couple of centimetres and remove any dark leaves from the stalk. If the stem is especially thick, slice your baby broccoli lengthways to help it cook faster. Since it has a slightly sweeter taste than broccoli with less bitterness, it can be consumed raw like in this tofu and baby broccoli salad, but cooking baby broccoli really brings out its flavour and that beautiful, vibrant colour.
Roasted baby broccoli is a fantastic side dish for a classic roast dinner like this mint and rosemary lamb, but it also works brilliantly in pastas like this rigatoni from Sabrina Frederick. Roasting any vegetable imparts a lovely charred flavour, but it also helps bring out the sweetness in baby broccoli. Baby broccoli is a delicate veggie and depending on your preferred doneness, it can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to cook in the oven. 20 minutes at 200ºC with other veggies like carrot will give you a baked baby broccoli like in this lamb cutlet recipe, whereas 250ºC for 12–14 minutes like in this spiced salmon tray bake gives you a more intense colour and roasted flavour.
Steamed baby broccoli is a refreshing side dish that adds vibrant colour to your plate. How long to steam baby broccoli will be different depending on the method. You can use a stove-top steamer like in this parmesan pork or this barramundi with soy and miso, and you can also steam baby broccoli as it cooks in a sauce like in this pumpkin green curry. A microwave oven is a great shortcut and alternative to a steamer. If your recipe or appliance doesn’t tell you how to cook baby broccoli in the microwave, just keep in mind that it will depend on your wattage. Place your baby broccoli into a microwave-safe container with a splash of water and heat on high in 1-minute bursts until bright green and tender. Drain and pat dry before serving.
It is common to parboil baby broccoli and similar cruciferous vegetables prior to cooking or serving. Stephanie Alexander uses this method for her broccolini with cashews and coconut where the vegetables are boiled and then refreshed under cold water. Blanching helps to tenderise the baby broccoli stalks before they finish cooking in the delicious curry paste. This avocado and brussels sprout salad does something similar – baby broccoli is boiled for a minute before being drained and served to cook out some of the raw taste. This baby broccoli, prosciutto and blue cheese quiche recipe parcooks the baby broccoli and peas by covering them with boiling water to soften before baking.
Pan frying and stir frying can both include some inspired tossing, but the goal is to heat the vegetables quickly so that they retain freshness and crunch whilst still cooking adequately. In this herb crusted salmon recipe, baby broccoli is pan fried in butter with brussels sprouts and beans to achieve this. Stir frying is normally done in a wok and happens quickly over a high heat like in this Korean beef and baby broccoli bowl and this chilli tofu and sweet potato stir fry. If you love your veggies crispy, you should definitely try this air fryer baby broccoli, which is served alongside marinated BBQ steak and potatoes with oregano and flaked almonds.
Use the oven grill to scorch the baby broccoli like in this broccolini salad recipe to dry it out and get it crispy. We already know from roasting that charred baby broccoli has a fantastic flavour that is slightly smoky, and a barbecue or chargrill does this just as well. Depending on how blackened you like your greens, you only need to cook baby broccoli over the flame for 2–3 minutes before it becomes tender. Grilling baby broccoli will also give your veggies those signature scorch marks which look fantastic plated up – just take a look at this BBQ baby broccoli with blue cheese dressing and Luke Mangan’s BBQ baby broccoli with anchovy and lemon.