The Underappreciated Veggies (and how to love them)

We see them in the store and we use them in our meals but are they truly appreciated?  We look at broccoli as something we have to eat and bell peppers confuse many of us, but these veggies add color, enhance flavor, and are excellent sources of many vitamins and nutrients.  They are such amazing vegetables that they have their own month, March.

Broccoli
Let’s begin our appreciation with broccoli, or “tiny trees” as my daughter called the florets when she was little.  Broccoli is very high in Vitamin C and can help to prevent cataracts and ease the symptoms of the common cold.  As a good source of folic acid, it makes a nice supplement for women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives. Potassium helps with high blood pressure and you can help fight osteoporosis with the calcium in it.  Broccoli is good for your entire body function by being high in fiber and beta-carotene.  As if you haven’t already heard enough benefits from eating broccoli, it has also been linked to the prevention or improvement of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, calcium deficiencies, stomach and colon cancer, malignant tumors, lung cancer, heart disease, arthritis and even the aging process.

This beneficial vegetable has its roots in Italy.  It was developed in Ancient Rome from a wild cabbage plant that more resembles collards than our broccoli. Broccoli was introduced to the United States during colonial times.  It was popularized by Italian immigrants who brought it with them to the New World.

Selecting broccoli for purchase is not difficult.  Look for broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised.  It should be uniformly colored with no yellowing.  The color will depend upon the variety and can be either dark green, sage, or purple-green.  The stalk and stems should be firm without any slimy spots.  Leaves, if attached, should be unwilted and vibrant in color.

Store your broccoli in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air as possible.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.  Don’t wash your broccoli before storing because the exposure to the water will encourage spoilage. Partial heads of broccoli should be refrigerated in a well-sealed container or a plastic bag and used within a couple days because the vitamin C content starts to quickly degrade once the broccoli has been cut. You can blanch and then freeze the broccoli for up to a year.

Bell Peppers
Now on to my favorite of the two, bell peppers. Bell peppers could be considered the Christmas ornaments of the vegetable world. You can eat an entire rainbow because they come in a wide array of vivid colors ranging from green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown, and even black. Bell peppers are not ‘hot’ like their cousins.  They contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin.

Yummy bell peppers are incredibly healthy for you too.  They are rich in thiamine and vitamin B6 which aid in many functions of the body.  Like broccoli, they are excellent sources of carotene and folic acid.  These peppers are also full of antioxidants, which studies have shown fight free radicals and help in the prevention of cancer.  They have also been shown to help in the prevention of blood clot formation, heart attacks, strokes, and help control cholesterol levels.

Bell peppers originated in South America just like their spicy cousins.  There are seeds of a wild variety dating back to 5000 BC.  These peppers were carried throughout the world by explorers.  Due to the fact that they are very adaptable plants, their cultivation and adoption into cuisines spread rapidly.  Currently, the main producers are China, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Nigeria, and Mexico.

Make sure you choose peppers with deep vivid colors, taut skin, and those that are free of soft spots, blemishes, or dark areas.  Stems should be green and fresh looking.  They should be heavy feeling for their size and firm with a gentle yield to slight pressure.  Avoid any with signs of decay.

You can keep peppers in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for up to one week.  Sweet peppers can be frozen whole without being blanched first.  Freezing them whole allows for less exposure to the air and helps the peppers contain their nutrient content and flavor.

I do hope that these two veggies will get some more love after you read this.  Try some of these recipes that combine both in one dish.

Broccoli, Red Pepper and Cheddar Chowder
1 small head broccoli
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 large garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp grated Parmesan
2 cups sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated
Dash or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce
Optional: ¼ cup heavy cream

1. Cut off the bottom of the broccoli stem. Finely chop remaining stem. Cut the rest of the broccoli into florets. Cook florets in 2 cups of lightly salted, boiling water for about 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, place the broccoli florets in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking, then drain. Save the cooking water.
2. Melt the butter in a 3-4 quart heavy pot over medium heat. Add potato, onion, red pepper, broccoli stems and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8-10 minutes.
3. Add cumin, salt, pepper, and mustard and cook, stirring, one minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add reserved broccoli water and chicken stock and simmer (partially covered) for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Stir in cheese and continue to cook and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the hot sauce to taste.
4. Puree ¾ of the chowder in a blender or food processor until smooth, and then return to pot. Add reserved florets and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in cream. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Broccoli, Bell Pepper and Beans with Bowtie Pasta
(Serves 4 )
1 pkg. (8 oz) whole wheat bowtie pasta
2 cups broccoli florets, sliced into small pieces
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ large red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
toasted pine nuts, to garnish (optional)

1. Place the pasta in a pot of boiling water. Cook about 7 minutes, then add the broccoli florets. Boil 3 more minutes, then drain pasta and broccoli in a colander.
1. Prepare the sauce while the pasta and broccoli are cooking. In a large cast iron skillet, heat oil in over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and sauté  until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook another minute. Add oregano, basil, tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and beans. Simmer about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Adjust seasonings to taste.
1. Place pasta and broccoli in a large serving bowl. Pour sauce over and gently toss. Garnish each serving with pine nuts if desired.

Rigatoni With Broccoli And Sweet Red Pepper
(Servings 6)
1 pound rigatoni
4 cups broccoli florets (about 10 ounces)
¾ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, chopped
¼ cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
3 garlic cloves, crushed through a press
1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
¾ cup dry white wine
¾ cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook rigatoni in large pot of boiling salted water 10 minutes. Add broccoli and cook until pasta is tender but still firm and broccoli is crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Drain in a colander.
2. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, cook chicken, bell pepper, and onion in olive oil over medium heat, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sage and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Stir in wine, broth, and cream. Simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Toss pasta and broccoli with chicken and sauce. Add cheese, toss again, and serve.

3 thoughts on “The Underappreciated Veggies (and how to love them)

  1. ha broccoli and bell peppers are my favorites! Brussel sprouts on the other hand.. ick