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All About Spigariello

Emily Balducci Apr 19 , 2017

We know there’s confusion out there concerning the differences between Spigariello, which is referred to as an heirloom kale variety, and Broccoli di Cicco which is an heirloom broccoli.

The confusion lies in the fact that Spigariello can look like broccoli rabe and tastes more like a sweeter broccoli cousin. It may even be a milder genetic forbear to broccoli rabe.  Like so many of the bitter greens we grow and enjoy in this country today, Spigariello is a southern Italian native.  Though it is on the lighter end of the bitterness spectrum, it shares the hearty, full-bodied flavor that is so typical of greens in this region.  Farmers in California first imported the seeds from Naples and Apulia in the 90s. The variety continues to be uncommon commercially, but has gained a cult following among chefs and small farmers.  

Actually a cross between broccoli and kale, Spigariello has long edible stems with curled green leaves like rabe.  It produces tiny edible flowers that are not quite florets. While broccoli rabe blossoms are the most desirable part of the bunch, Spigiarello blossoms are either very small or not there at all. The stems, however, are much tenderer; they don’t need peeling at all, just a small snip across the bottom.

Toss the whole bunch right into the skillet, chop and add to soups or enjoy raw in salads. Spigariello does taste like broccoli but even better – some say it has a mild broccoli sprout-like flavor or that it tastes like a broccoli/kale hybrid.

Spigariello is a cool season crop that can take some frost. It peaks mid-winter and last through spring.

Broccoli di Cicco looks more like broccolini and is a hardy annual heirloom broccoli.  An old-fashioned variety, it produces a main head along with smaller florets. It is harvested when the main head is no more than three inches across, which encourages numerous smaller heads and side shoots.

The variety was first introduced in Italy in 1890 and, if you’ve ever eaten it there, you know why it’s revered.  It has an earthy-sweet, broccoli-like flavor with a juicy, deeply satisfying chew.  It’s great steamed, stir fried or braised. It can also be frozen without much change in texture or taste.

Its large, lobed leaves are totally edible and cook up soft as Swiss chard. The stems are narrow and tender. Chefs often chop the stems and leaves and cook them together with the loose looking heads all in the same pan.

The upshot is that both Spigariello and DiCiccio have flavor nuances of sweet broccoli, yet they taste different from each other. Texture, mass and shape would be the deciding factor when featuring one or the other for a special dish. 

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