It lies there -- lurid, light green -- in the produce section of the supermarket. At first glance, it looks like the little green guys from Mars have been at work matching the vegetable to their skin tone.
Actually, it's "broccoflower" -- the latest horticultural hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower that could be the big hit of the season. In about 18 months, this new vegetable went from a relative unknown to national distribution.
Broccoflower has the identical shape and weight of cauliflower, but it's more elegant and the color is as green as an underripe banana. At fashionable buffets, its green allure is a startling highlight, particularly in the middle of ordinary white cauliflower, dark green broccoli florets or both.
The flavor and aroma of brocco- flower is moderate, in contrast to the pungent, cabbage-like glory of white cauliflower.
And it's good for you, too. A surprising quality of the new vegetable is it scores higher nutritionally in some ways than either of its parents. According to tests done at the food science and nutrition labs of Cal-Polytech University, broccoflower is very high in vitamin C -- up to three times the vitamin C in cauliflower and roughly equal to broccoli. It's high in folic acid and has double the beta carotene of cauliflower. For most other nutrients, it's the equal of cauliflower.
The new vegetable was developed for the market in 1988, and made its first big marketing push in Texas early last year. Its first big trade exhibition came last May at the Food Marketing Institute show in Chicago.
The Dutch seed for the new vegetable originally sold for $1,500 a pound, but broccoflower is not exorbitantly priced at retail. Expect to pay between $1.50 and $2 a head in the supermarket.
Simple, rather than complex, seems to be the favored cooking method. One of California's best-known bistro chefs, Guy Stockrider, of Laguna Beach, simply steams the vegetable and tosses it with butter, salt and pepper.
Jerry Purdy, produce director for Giant Foods, agrees that steaming is the ideal. Giant is among the first stores to carry the product in Maryland, but it's also available at Safeway and SuperFresh stores.
"We've had it about a month," says Jack D'Anthony of the SuperFresh in Westminster, "it's selling fairly well."
Eastern food marketers expect fresh broccoflower to begin peaking after April l, though a good number of local supermarkets already carry the product.
Cooking methods for the crop are snaps for experienced cooks and easy to learn for those who are not. A whole head of broccoflower can be trimmed of leaves and stabbed a few times with a sharp knife (but not broken up). It should be steamed whole for about 15 minutes or until a knife will go in without too much resistance. Or you can boil the individual florets. Drop them into boiling water and bring to a second boil for another minute.
The steamed or boiled product makes a delightful contribution to your favorite vegetable soup, as florets or pureed. Steamed heads are often served polonaise (Polish) style, which means simply dousing the cooked head generously with pan-browned bread crumbs in butter, then showering it with minced parsley and a shredded or grated hard cooked egg or two before serving.
Broccoflower seems to respond well to touches of bay leaf, (in the boiling water), or it can be flavored with sesame seed, basil, thyme, garlic and vinegar, Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Or it can be stir-fried in the classic Asian oils and sauces. Chefs may welcome the arrival of another green vegetable as standard fare, if only for decorative reasons.
The recent popularity of "white," healthy entrees, (fish, turkey, chicken, scallops, etc.) mean generally dull dinner platters visually. Broccoflower adds a color dimension that is pleasant.
"If you're having chicken or fish, you don't want to add a vegetable that's white," says Rosie Pollard, a California sales agent for the product.
Contrary to reports, the new green vegetable was not intended as a subterfuge to reintroduce broccoli to the White House menus, despite the verified aversion of President Bush for broccoli. The fact is, broccoflower has already been served at least twice from the presidential kitchens at receptions, according to George Gowagani, chief of the crop science department at Cal Tech. It accompanied a dip.
Wags have already suggested that they would like things better if the new vegetable was called "caulicoli."
Whatever happens "it should be great for St. Patrick's Day," adds another jokester.
California food producers, Tanimura and Antle, the nation's second largest lettuce supplier and pioneers in the introduction of broccoflower, suggest these recipes for showcasing the new vegetable:
Broccoflower and cheese soup
Makes 4 servings.
4 to 5 cups chicken stock
1 small onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 small head broccoflower, trimmed and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese
freshly ground black pepper
Bring stock, onion and bay leaf to a boil and add chopped broccoflower. Turn heat down and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until florets are tender. Remove the bay leaf and pour the vegetables and their liquid a little at a time into a blender or food processor and puree. Heat the butter in the same saucepan and blend in the flour; cook gently a minute, stirring, then carefully stir in the milk until blended. Add the cheese. Taste and add salt as necessary and a few turns of the pepper grinder. (Adapted from Judith and Evan Jones' "L. L. Bean's New New England Cookbook.")
Sesame broccoflower saute
Makes 4 servings.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 pound broccoflower, trimmed, peeled and cut into florets and coins (about 5 cups)
1/2 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Toss together oil, sesame seeds and broccoflower in a 13-by-10-by-2-inch dish. Push the florets into the center of the dish and coins around the inside edge. Cover with microwave plastic wrap, venting one corner to allow steam to release.
Cook at 100 percent (high power) for 4 minutes in a 650- to 700-watt microwave oven. Remove from microwave and uncover. Add soy and vinegar and toss to cool.