Broccoli and Cauliflower Leaves
The first time I saw a fully grown, straight-from-the-fields head of cauliflower, I didn’t even recognize it. An armful of a plant with layers of frilly leaves—almost petal-like—surrounding the tightly bound hub of the plant’s florets. The creamy head—the part you usually see in the grocery store—was nestled deep inside the center of the leaves, like a bud waiting to bloom. It’s a striking plant that earns the “flower” in its name. If you shop in the farmers’ market, this is often how you will find them—gorgeous in all their glory.
Broccoli grows in a similar way—a head of florets surrounded by long, frilly leaves. However, broccoli is harvested differently from cauliflower. Rather than taking the head and leaves all in one pass, it is possible to harvest broccoli in a “cut and come again” fashion. The farmer removes the largest broccoli crowns from the plant, leaving the leaves intact. Side shoots will continue to grow where the head was harvested, developing florets that provide a second, side harvest. At this time, the leaves can be taken as well. So, while you will often find broccoli leaves in the market, you will rarely find them surrounding the central crown.
Don’t see much broccoli or cauliflower leaf around at the market? Ask your farmer. It’s a bonus crop that usually gets turned under when the plant stops producing but, like garlic scapes, is starting to gain ground in the market as eaters come to understand its uses and great flavor. And that’s good news because these leaves aren’t just gorgeous, they taste terrific—very similar to other Brassicas, such as kale, that are grown for their greenery.