What Is Broccoli Spigarello And What Does It Taste Like?

In the abundantly nutritious world of leafy greens, a little-known newcomer is beginning to make its mark on the culinary scene. Broccoli spigarello, originally from Italy, has begun to be noticed in Southern California, where its unique blend of broccoli flavor and kale-like texture has captured the attention of chefs across Los Angeles. Where the big, bold flavors of kale, cavolo nero, and broccoli rabe have earned them a dedicated following in recent decades, the subtler, mild flavor of spigarello allows it to be used in a wide variety of dishes without overpowering other ingredients.

For enthusiastic home cooks looking to incorporate exciting new ingredients and flavors into their meals, broccoli spigarello should be high on the list. A versatile ingredient that is bursting with nutrition, it is a brilliant addition to many dishes, from crunchy salads to hearty soups. Join us as we explore this remarkable vegetable and unveil the gastronomic potential of the newest broccoli on the block.

What is broccoli spigarello?

Broccoli spigarello is a brassica that appears to combine the best parts of broccoli and kale into one delicious vegetable. It has been grown in southern Italy for hundreds of years and made its way to the states toward the end of the last century. At a glance, you would be unlikely to think it was a broccoli plant since it does not have the signature florets — instead, it grows in bunches of elegant leaves that more closely resemble kale or cavolo nero.

From a cooking point of view, broccoli spigarello is a brilliant chameleon. It can be used in so many dishes where either broccoli or leafy greens could be used, but somehow it manages to exceed the expectation of either. It can be enjoyed raw, sauteed, or stewed and is packed with nutrition, meaning it can inject a healthy burst into every meal it graces. Once you have tried broccoli spigarello, you will be smitten, and your broccoli game will have changed forever.

How is broccoli spigarello grown?

Broccoli spigarello is grown more along the lines of kale than of its broccoli siblings and comes in both smooth and curly forms. Unlike regular broccoli, recognizable for its dense green florets, spigarello grows beautiful, edible greens that have a mild broccoli flavor.

Though grown almost exclusively in the south of Italy until a few decades ago, spigarello is now available in the USA and has become a feature of modern menus. Bbroccoli spigarello seeds can be sown in late winter or early spring. The leaves can be picked at any time, and early leaves can happily be eaten raw, providing a delicious crunch to salads. Mature leaves have a much stronger flavor and are better served cooked, either by sauteeing or steaming. Cooking will soften the flavor and remove the slightly tougher texture exhibited by older leaves.

As broccoli spigarello gains popularity outside of its native Italy, there will be more opportunities for amateur gardeners and keen home cooks to add this unusual plant to their gardens. Its adaptability makes it ideal for creating fresh dishes, with the familiar broccoli flavor disguised as a leafy green.

What does broccoli spigarello taste like?

Even the biggest food enthusiasts can be unsure when it comes to eating a new food, and for some reason, we tend to be particularly hesitant over greens. If you have just heard of broccoli spigarello for the first time, you may wonder what it tastes like and whether you are likely to enjoy it. If you are a fan of broccoli and other green vegetables, you won't be disappointed.

Although spigarello looks nothing like traditional broccoli, it definitely has some broccoli vibes going on when it comes to flavor. Like most green vegetables, it has slightly bitter undertones and also a welcome sweetness. Its texture is most similar to kale, giving a satisfying crunch when eaten raw or stir-fried. Its combination of flavor and texture makes spigerallo an exciting addition to the culinary repertoire of any home cook, and the comforting familiarity provides the best of both worlds for broccoli and kale lovers. Even for those who are wary of dark green veggies, spigarello's flavor should be mild enough for them to give it a shot. 

Broccoli spigarello vs broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe, also known as broccoli rapini, is often confused with broccoli spigarello due to the physical similarities shared by the two vegetables. The two are closely related, with broccoli spigarello considered to be the "parent" of broccoli rabe. Though they may look like siblings, there is a difference in flavor between the two that should make it fairly easy to tell them apart if you are cooking with them.

While both rabe and spigarello have a distinctive, "green" taste about them, broccoli rabe has a bitter flavor that can be jarring if eaten raw. For this reason, most people sautee rabe to get the best flavor out of it.  Spigarello, on the other hand, has a much milder flavor and even sweet notes in the same manner as spinach. This means that raw spigarello has a more subtle flavor that lends itself well to salads.

In spite of their flavor differences, broccoli rabe and spigarello can be used in similar ways and are interchangeable in dishes, especially when cooked. Blanching or sauteeing either of them will soften the leaves and reduce any bitterness, and both taste delicious when cooked with chili and garlic and served as a starter or side dish.

How to cook with broccoli spigarello

If you manage to get your hands on some broccoli spigarello, there are plenty of ways to cook and serve it that will add vibrancy to your existing dishes. It needs little preparation — just a quick rinse to remove any dirt from the leaves — before you can get straight into whipping up a culinary masterpiece. The entire plant is edible, including the stems and flowers, meaning that it is a great zero-waste option.

If you're used to cooking kale or cavolo nero, the techniques should be familiar. Sauteeing is a quick and easy option that gets delicious results – simply heat oil in a skillet and toss the spigarello in with some garlic and chili for the perfect crispy side dish.  Alternatively, steam the leaves for a few minutes to wilt them to act as a bed of greens for fish or meat.

Of course, you may not wish to cook your spigarello at all if you want to add its raw goodness to a salad, instead. Young leaves, especially, are mild in flavor and more palatable raw than kale or broccoli rabe. Add some raw leaves in with your usual salad leaves with some chopped nuts, cranberries, and a homemade vinaigrette for the perfect balance of sweet and savory. However you choose to prepare your spigarello, its delicious broccoli flavor will give a unique twist to your usual meals and add a burst of flavor and nutrition to your midweek dinners.

Where to buy broccoli spigarello

If you have just recently heard about broccoli spigarello, you may be eager to rush down to your local grocery store and stock up on this new-to-you leafy green. But, don't get too carried away just yet; there's a reason you haven't heard of it before, and unfortunately, that's because it's pretty hard to find. However, if you are determined to track down some spigarello, it will be worth the effort.

Start at your local farmers' market – somewhere you should be frequenting often for quality produce anyway. Even if you can't get a hold of some spigarello there, there is a good chance that someone will be able to point you in the right direction — either to buy some or grow it yourself. They may also be able to suggest a similar alternative until you can get some. Since spigarello is more common in Italy than in the US, you may want to try a specialty Italian store. If you don't have one near you, try an online Italian store that delivers to your neighborhood.

If you are struggling to find broccoli spigarello or are feeling adventurous, why not grow your own so that you have it at hand whenever you need it? Seeds can be purchased online, and the plants are easy to grow, meaning that you won't have to rely on others to find this tasty green next year.

Nutritional information of broccoli spigarello

If you're already a fan of broccoli, kale, or both, you likely add fresh, nutritious food to your diet regularly. Broccoli spigarello is just as nutrient-dense as its fellow greens, packed with vitamins and minerals and the health benefits that go along with them.

Like most greens, broccoli spigarello is an excellent source of vitamin K, a crucial vitamin needed for blood clotting and wound healing. Leafy greens are the main dietary source of vitamin K and are vital to daily health. You will also find vitamins A, C, and E present in spigarello, alongside important minerals such as calcium and potassium. These are all critical substances to help the skin, eyes, and immune system, making spigarello a great addition to your diet.

As a member of the brassica family, spigarello also contains sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which are showing promising results in reducing the risk of certain cancers (via National Library of Medicine). Doctors recommend eating at least one portion of cruciferous vegetables daily to take advantage of their sulfur compounds and improve your overall health.

Low in calories and high in fiber, broccoli spigarello is pretty much flawless in its nutritional profile. If you can get your hands on some, there is no reason not to add it to your meals on a daily basis. Its delicious flavor, along with its impressive nutrient profile, make it the perfect new addition to your culinary arsenal.

How to store spigarello

Once you have gone to the effort of tracking down some precious broccoli spigarello, you will want to make sure it lasts as long as possible until you have time to use it all. Storing your spigarello properly will increase its longevity and maintain its freshness of taste and texture.

The first thing you need to do after buying your spigarello is to wash the leaves thoroughly to remove dirt and grit, then pat them dry with some kitchen towels. Moisture trapped in the leaves could increase the speed of spoilage. Once the leaves are dry, store them in an airtight box in the fridge, ideally in the salad crisper, which is the perfect temperature for vegetables.

If you find yourself with more spigarello than you can eat in a few days, the leaves can be frozen for future use. The texture is unlikely to remain good enough to eat raw, so blanching the leaves before freezing means they can easily be thrown into a dish from frozen when needed. To blanch, boil the leaves in water for one to two minutes, then cool them down in cold water or ice to prevent further cooking. Be sure to dry thoroughly before transferring the leaves to an airtight container or a freezer-proof bag. By storing your spigarello effectively, you can keep it vibrant and ensure that it stays as fresh and nutritious as possible.

Other uses for broccoli spigarello

Finding a good recipe for your fresh, green spigarello can be challenging as the ingredient is relatively new to the US culinary scene compared to other leafy greens. Since kale, cavolo nero, and broccoli rabe are very similar vegetables, you can often use a recipe for one of these and substitute in the broccoli spigarello.

In Italy, spigarello is also known as cima de rapa and the most famous dish using spigarello is orichietti con cima de rapa. Most recipes for this Puglian specialty use broccoli rabe and spigarello interchangeably, so you can follow any recipe for this delicious pasta dish. Spigarello will also go brilliantly as an additional leafy green in this Italian kale pie. The milder flavor of the spigarello will balance the bitterness of the kale to create a wonderfully satisfying filling.

For a hearty, warming winter dish, try using broccoli spigarello in an Italian white bean soup. The greens will add a nutritional punch to an already healthy dish, making it the perfect midweek meal to get you through those cold months. By substituting broccoli spigarello into recipes involving other leafy greens, you can create exciting twists on familiar dishes and show why this versatile veggie deserves to feature in the kitchen of every keen home cook.