Leaf Broccoli, also known as Spigariello, is an unusual vegetable that’s popular in various parts of Italy where it goes by the name of Cima di rape Spigarello or Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello.
Practically unknown here in the U.S., you won’t find Leaf Broccoli growing in many backyard gardens or offered for sale at your local market.
Leaf Broccoli, Unknown but not Unworthy
It’s a shame that Spigariello is not more popular because it happens to be an attractive plant that’s easy to grow, extremely productive, and is bound to supply significant amounts of the same healthful nutrients that are contained in broccoli and nutrient dense leafy greens.
Spigariello is similar in appearance to broccoli, growing three to four feet in height and is shaped just like a broccoli plant with narrower leaves. The medium blue-green foliage is full and bushy with long slender leaves that are attached along the plant’s main stems.
One style of Leaf Broccoli has curly foliage with wavy margins, while other strains display flat leaves with smooth edges; both types provide a distinctive and attractive appearance in the garden. The tall plants can be grouped in clusters to create a focal point in ornamental edible gardens.
One advantage over regular broccoli is that Spigariello will tolerate warmer growing conditions than either broccoli or cauliflower. While it should still be treated as more of a cool weather vegetable and planted to produce spring and summer harvests, I’ve had no problem growing these plants from spring on through the autumn season.
Planting and Growing Leaf Broccoli
Spigariello seeds can be started indoors in late winter just as you would raise broccoli transplants, or you can plant the seeds directly into the garden in early spring. The seeds can also be planted during late summer for growing as part of the fall vegetable garden.
Fresh Leaf Broccoli seeds are dependable germinators so you don’t need to sow the seed thickly at all. The seedlings will sprout and begin growing within a few days of being planted. After the seedlings have developed several true leaves, thin or transplant the seedlings so that they stand eight to twelve inches apart.
The Leaf Broccoli plants are frost hardy and even show resistance against the normal group of Cole family pests such as cabbage worms. The plants will benefit from a nitrogen rich soil, side dressings of compost, or an occasional application of an organic foliar fertilizer.
Harvesting Leaf Broccoli
Unlike traditional broccoli which is grown for the central seed head that forms as the plant matures, Leaf Broccoli is raised for the large quantities of edible leaves that the plant produces. These nutritious leaves can be harvested at any stage of the plant’s growth, and keeping the leaves harvested will actually encourage additional plant growth and leaf production.
Seed catalog descriptions indicate that Spigariello plants will also produce small broccoli-like buds that can be eaten. The plants that I’ve grown in my garden have produced loads of tasty leaves but have never managed to run to seed or form shoots similar to the mock broccoli that I harvest from spring greens.
Spigariello is typically harvested by cutting or carefully pulling the leaves from the plant’s stem. You can harvest dozens of leaves from a single plant at one time, but don’t completely defoliate the plant when harvesting. Leaving the smaller leaves in place will enable the plant to continue growing and quickly replace the leaves that are harvested.
Using Spigariello in your Favorite Recipes
Leaf Broccoli is very versatile in the kitchen and the creative chef can find unlimited uses for this leafy green vegetable. Of course the leaves can be eaten raw or used as an addition to fresh tossed salads. They can also be included as a healthful ingredient for your favorite smoothies and blended salads.
Spigariello can be steamed, sauteed, stir-fried, or boiled. Mix it in when cooking other greens such as kale, collards, and mustard greens. Leaf Broccoli can also be substituted for other leafy greens in a multitude of your favorite dishes and gourmet recipes.
While Leaf Broccoli may not be a popular or well known vegetable, there’s no reason not to have at least a few Spigariello plants growing in your garden’s raised beds to provide a plentiful source of nutritious leafy greens from early spring right on through late autumn frosts.
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