Broccoli stems – You’re Probably Throwing Away the Best Part

The “nose-to-tail” approach has been gaining popularity in recent years, emphasizing the use of all the edible parts of an animal instead of just the prime cuts. At Nostrana, an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, Chef Cathy Whims has been applying this principle to vegetables as well, not because of a vegetable rights advocacy but to eliminate food waste. Whims has been experimenting with using broccoli stalks, which are usually discarded or composted, in her recipes.


Broccoli is a vegetable that Whims loves for its complex flavours when cooked properly. It has a slight sulfurous quality that mellows into a complex sweetness, balanced by sour and bitter notes, with a hint of almond at times. The Italians have regional varieties of broccoli growing in their home gardens, such as spigarello, friarielli/cime di rapa, and rapini, which are some of Whims’ favourites.

However, the type of broccoli commonly found in American supermarkets, calabrese, has a waste issue. About half of its head is comprised of florets, while the other half is thick, dense stalks. Whims advises selecting calabrese broccoli with tightly bunched, deep blue-green florets and avoiding yellowing, which is a sign of old broccoli and less sweetness.

Whims questions the premium price of broccoli crowns sold separately from the stalks. She believes that the stalks are pure broccoli goodness and are adept at soaking up butter. To get the most out of the entire broccoli head, Whims suggests preparing the whole head by cutting about ½ inch off the bottom of the stalk, which is often dried out. Then, cut off the crown, leaving a bit of a “neck” so that you have a frilly top and a small amount of stalk for each floret. The crown can then be cut into separate florets, leaving them larger or cutting them smaller depending on the dish. Whims emphasizes that the smaller the florets, the more likely they will disintegrate during cooking, which can be a good thing.

The remaining stalk is relatively straight and thick, requiring peeling to remove its bright-green, fibrous outer skin, which is not very sweet. Whims suggests using a vegetable peeler and pressing firmly so that the blade digs deep to remove the tough skin. The stalk can then be sliced into julienne sticks, cut across into coins, or diced for a recipe. The peeled stalks will cook at about the same rate as the florets, but if they are cut into thick pieces, they should be added to the pan a minute or two before the florets.

Broccoli is an adaptable vegetable that can swing mellow or bold, pairing beautifully with sweet, rich ingredients such as butter, milk, Parmesan, and sautéed onions in a broccoli sformato or going bold, as it does in Whims’ recipe for broccoli stems with a bagna cauda of peppery extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. Whims encourage eating the whole vegetable, from stalk to flower, to get the most pleasure and to eliminate food waste.

Broccoli stems – You’re Probably Throwing Away the Best Part

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