Spring is on its way at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, but farmer’s tables are still full of tasty cool weather crops.Sprouting broccoli is a cool weather crop popping up all over the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. What we commonly consider standard broccoli is actually called Calabrese broccoli, dating back to 300 AD, and is good for commercial use because it is easy to grow and transport. Sprouting broccoli is an old, Italian variety that does not form the large heads seen in typical broccoli. It has a sweeter flavor than regular broccoli and its thin stem can be eaten in addition to the florets. It is perfect for stir fries and roasting. Weiser Family Farms is growing a new crop: purple sprouting broccoli. Purple sprouting broccoli originated from the Romans and pre-dates Calabrese broccoli. In England, purple sprouting broccoli was the only broccoli they knew and Calabrese broccoli was not introduced until the mid to late twentieth century. Purple sprouting broccoli takes a full year to grow and has a very short season of only two months. It is a hearty crop that loves and withstands very cold weather, even frost, and will not grow in warm weather. It resembles a small Brussel Sprout stalk in that it has a big stalk with sprouts shooting off. It has a distinct flavor and is very flavorful but slightly bitter and has a much stronger flavor than typical Calabrese broccoli. Sautee it lightly with butter or roast it. It can also be steamed lightly, but be careful not to over cook it or it will lose its purple color. Weiser Family Farms will have purple sprouting broccoli in March and April. Fennel grows nearly year round but is primarily a cool weather crop. The white bulb grows above ground, similarly to celery and also is a water intensive crop. The white bulb is edible, but do not eat the stalks or leaves. The bulb can be very thinly sliced and eaten raw in salads or sliced and sautéed or stir fried or even baked whole like a potato. The spice anise comes from fennel seeds. For an easy meal bake chicken thighs with ginger, garlic and sliced and quartered fennel bulb. You could also use beef instead of chicken thighs and cook in a slow cooker.
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