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Many are the leafy, tuberous and pod-prolific members of the vegetable kingdom of which I am an enthusiastic subject. Be it rutabaga or radish, turnip or tomato, parsnip or pea, kale or cabbage, I'll happily grow, cook, can and consume them all (with a few exceptions like mustard greens and lima beans, which I was once certain my parents invented as instruments of child torture).
This spring, when some broccoli I started from seed in my community garden plot at Calkins Park in New London began sprouting, I began looking forward to large, fresh heads that would beat anything I could buy at the grocery store. As the seedlings matured with silvery green, floppy-eared leaves, my hopes seemed to gain credence.
But as I watched the plants get larger, all I saw were big, lush leaves, bigger than my hand. The giant fans hid no make-believe maples - broccoli heads always remind me of a child's crayon drawing of a tree - but only tiny green flowers no bigger than one bite's worth. And those leaves were shading out the Chinese cabbage and beets sharing valuable space in my plot.
Instead of lamenting my headless broccoli, I opted for another strategy. Could I eat the broccoli leaves? After a quick Internet search, I learned that I could, that they're loaded with vitamins A and C and a host of minerals, and found some recipes. So I pedaled my bike to the garden, scissors in my basket, and clipped a dozen or so leaves. While I was there, Lisa, one of the very capable and knowledgeable leaders of our garden organization, offered me some garlic scapes from the plot of someone who'd moved away.
Back home, I prepared the leaves according to a simple recipe, chopped the garlic scapes and an onion, and sauted them together in olive oil. At dinner, my husband and I each had two servings, finishing all I'd prepared. The broccoli leaves turned a deep, summer-moss green when cooked, tasting similar to kale, but milder - perhaps owing to the bit of sugar the recipe called for.
Sautéed broccoli leaves
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 small onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups broccoli leaves
2 tsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic (I used chopped garlic scapes instead)
Wash broccoli leaves and remove stems. Roll leaves and cut, so that when finished they look like noodles. Add cut leaves and olive oil to pan. Cook on medium.
Dice onion and add to pan with broccoli leaves. Add minced garlic, salt and pepper. Add sugar to taste (sugar helps cut the bitterness of the leaves).
Stir frequently, until onions are translucent and leaves are tender. Serve hot.