I have touched on this before but perhaps if I promise never to mention it again I can get away with it this last time. Watch any programme on cooking and the green, tree-like veg, that everyone loves to hate, is called broccoli. Both broccoli and calabrese are related to each other and are simply forms of cabbage, domesticated and selected for their flowering shoots rather than their leaves.
Both plants are Italian and broccoli is the plural of broccolo, which is the Italian for flowering cabbage and brocco means ‘sprout’ – as in shoot. Sprouting broccoli is usually biennial. The seeds are sown in late spring and the plants grow through autumn and they overwinter through frost and produce shoots in spring. They can have white or purple flower buds. The shoots are picked as they grow and once the main shoots have been picked there should be a second flush. There are some cultivars that flower the first summer but they are not as successful as the overwintering kinds. There are F1 kinds that have larger main shoots and they may be more compact. These are generally large plants and they take a long time to mature. Sprouting broccoli is a wonderful veg and it and it is very nutritious. But because it is in the ground for a long time most people grow calabrese.
Calabrese is an annual relative from southern Italy, would you guess Calabria? It is not as winter hardy as regular sprouting broccoli, possibly because it originated in the south of the country. It can be sown from early spring onwards and it can be harvested from May (in a polytunnel) till late autumn. The plants each produce a large head and then secondary stems that produce a lighter crop and it takes about three months, or a little more in early spring and late autumn, from seed to harvest. The F1 cultivars are worth growing because they are reliable and early to crop but bear in mind that they will all mature at the same time so only sow a few seeds at each time.
Both crops suffer from the usual cabbage problems and growing calabrese under mesh is very worthwhile to keep off the butterflies. Nothing puts a child off veg more than finding a boiled caterpillar in their calabrese and that includes this big kid!