Like cauliflower, a close relative, broccoli is grown for its head, which is made-up of a mass of unopened flowerbuds.
Cook broccoli soon after buying, it loses its texture after 3-4 days, even when stored loosely wrapped, in the fridge.
British-grown regular broccoli has a distinctive flavour, enjoying a lengthy season, from summer through to late autumn. Enjoy sprouting broccoli at its best in February and March.
CALABRESE OR REGULAR BROCCOLI Commonly available, it has a short, thickish stem and closely packed green head. Look for a dark green colour and firm texture, without any trace of yellowing.
SPROUTING BROCCOLI Purple sprouting broccoli, available in green or occasionally white florets, is a delicacy, best enjoyed in early spring. It's easily identified by its slender stems with thin 'branches' and small leaves attached.
ROMANESCO A type of calabrese, it resembles a smallish, lime-green cauliflower and is cooked in the same way.
IN THE KITCHEN
After enduring a heritage of overcooked offerings, the days of cooked-until-limp broccoli seem to be over. Crisp, stir-fried, lightly blanched or steamed florets have an appealing fresh flavour and colour.
Serve sprouted broccoli with the stems intact. Cook regular green broccoli with the short stubby stems attached. If the stems are mature, pare off a thin layer of outer skin with a vegetable knife.
Besides making a colourful side dish when served on its own, broccoli is also good in stir-fries, soups and bakes, working particularly well with pasta.
When served raw, the florets make crunchy dunks for dips.
Melted butter is a classic accompaniment to broccoli. Grated cheese, lemon juice and creamy sauces also work well.
Ring the changes and treat lightly blanched broccoli to a dash of balsamic vinegar, chopped red chillies, sautéed garlic, olive oil, or a good grind of black peppercorns.