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IN SEASON

August Is for Broccoli Lovers

August 22, 1996|RUSS PARSONS

People don't usually consider broccoli a summer vegetable, but then no one ever mistook August in the Salinas Valley for usual summer weather.

A combination of those two factors has broccoli at rock-bottom prices at a time when quality is about as good as it gets. The wholesale price for broccoli this week is about 30 cents a pound.

The pricing problem (for growers) is two-fold. First, because of the Salinas area's cool, misty mornings--just the kind of weather broccoli loves--there's a lot of the vegetable around. Then there's the fact that no one really feels like pushing broccoli in the middle of August.

Consumers tend to think of broccoli as something to eat in the winter and spring, and so do produce sellers. With everyone busy enjoying the bounty of summer--tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants--there's just not much thought given to poor old broccoli.

When buying broccoli, make sure the heads are tight and dark green. There should be no fading, and you certainly don't want any yellow flowering--that indicates the broccoli was picked too late and is likely to be bitter.

Check the other end as well. Avoid broccoli when the cut end of the stalk looks dried out or split. In the first case, it's too old. Splitting is evidence of an abnormal growth pattern that can result in hollow, stringy stems.

Speaking of which, though the florets are the glamorous part of the broccoli plant, good cooks don't overlook the stems (witness the boom in packaged so-called broccoli slaw--really grated stems). The larger stems need to be peeled just as you would a carrot or potato. But, once peeled, they can be cut up and treated just like the more delicate tops.

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