There’s a new kid on the block in the ever-expanding greens department: Spigarello broccoli. It originally hails from southern Italy, particularly around Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. The long, smooth, skinny, dark green leaves can be curly or flat depending on the variety.
I bought my spigarelllo from Rick Bishop’s Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, which operates a hugely popular stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City—a line forms as early as 7:30 am on Saturday mornings—and it also supplies specialty produce to many high-end restaurants in the city. Bishop credits chef Michael White of Marea, one of the restaurants in White’s Altamarea Group, for asking him to grow spigarello.
It’s a non-heading broccoli, says Chris Field, a chef and apprentice farmer to Bishop. Bishop get’s his seeds from Seeds of Italy, the American distributor of Italy’s venerable Franchi Seeds. Although Bishop orders the flat leaf, Field speculates that the varieties of spigarello (spigariello in Italy) get unintentionally mixed. “You walk a row and every four or five plants will be curly, curly, curly, and then there’ll be a broad leaf,” explains Field.
New York chefs are really getting into the green. “Jonathan Benno at Lincoln takes like three to four cases a week,” says Field, “and Craft [Tom Collichio] and Marea buy a lot. ABC Kitchen is using it on pizza.” Bishop has eight 500-foot rows of spigarello growing on his farm, so there’s plenty to go around.
That’s also because the plant is prolific. Field says you can probably get about three bunches off one plant. If you leave the crown in place, and pick the lower leaves, it will keep producing. As the weather gets colder, the spigarello gets even better. “It’s the best after a few frosts. We’re like, ‘come on frosts!’” says Field with a chuckle.
But the real confirmation of spigarello’s charms comes from Bishop’s own staff. “We really love it…we all go home after working all day, and all of us are eating two bunches per person,” says Field.
And how does Field cook it? He cuts off the lower stems, blanches the greens in boiling water until they’re soft, then sautés them with shallot, garlic, and tomatoes. I tend to stir-fry my greens in a skillet first with some onion, then add a little water and steam them, covered, until tender.
But I took Field’s advice. This morning I blanched the spigarello in generously salted boiling water for 10 minutes, drained it, and sautéed it briefly in olive oil with some onion. Then, I slid a leaf into my mouth. Bingo, what a taste treat! It’s mild and deeply meaty like kale, only better, with that delightful hint of vegetal sweetness.
Looks like I’ll be joining that 7:30 am line in at Mountain Sweet Berry Farm this weekend to buy more.