» Nonfiction

The Purported Magic of Broccolini

When, on several occasions, my Twitter crush tweets that he’s eating broccolini, I feel intrigued. I’ve eaten broccolini a couple of times, in restaurants, but never prepared it at home. I begin looking for broccolini each time I visit the grocery store, with no luck. After two months, broccolini becomes available from my online imperfect produce delivery. Jackpot!

            I become very excited about the broccolini, which I must wait three days to receive. Although I’m no longer in full pandemic isolation mode, I work from home, am single, and see friends only occasionally. Most of my waking life is spent indoors, staring at a screen, or on long, slow walks that I hope counterbalance those other hours.

            To combat loneliness and keep my spirits up, I try to give myself a continual stream of small thrills — walking a new route, photographing a neighbor’s rose mallow hibiscus bush, listening to a musician I’ve never heard before, and, now, exploring the purported magic of broccolini.

            I search for information about broccolini online to fuel my excitement as I wait for the order to arrive, like a child would research a gift they are expecting for Christmas. I know what I’m doing is a little silly, a contrived effort laid forth as part of a larger attempt to maintain mental and emotional health. But don’t we all need a little silliness sometimes? For me, at least, researching broccolini has healing properties.

            Since I’d heard broccolini referred to as “baby broccoli,” I’d mistakenly thought it was the broccoli plant harvested at a young age. But I learn broccolini is not young broccoli. It’s actually a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, another Brassica vegetable also called Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli.

            Further, the word broccolini is trademarked. This hybrid vegetable, only legally allowed to be referred to as “broccolini” by the company Mann Packing, is nutritionally similar to broccoli, providing protein, fiber, iron, and potassium. But because broccolini is denser, you’d need to eat nearly twice as much broccoli to receive the same amount of nutrients.

            Mann Packing isn’t the only brand that trademarked a term for my virtual crush’s favorite veggie, though they seem to be the most successful. Other companies have trademarked “bimi” and the aptly named “tenderstem.”  Those who prefer not to use branded terms for this piece of produce may call it broccoletti, Italian sprouting broccoli, aspiration, and — my personal favorite, albeit slightly inaccurate — sweet baby broccoli.

            When my broccolini arrives, it looks slim and long. The stems end in playfully floppy, round florets. After examining it closely, I put my broccolini in the fridge. When I take it out the next day at dinnertime, I see that tiny yellow flowers have bloomed around the edges overnight. An internet search shows the yellow flowers indicate the broccolini has aged, but is still safe to eat.

            I sautee the broccolini in oil for only a few minutes as the internet had instructed, strain it, and spoon it into a bowl. Although I rarely use butter, I drop a pat on top of the slightly charred aspiration, watching the pale yellow square melt onto the green stems and bright yellow flowers. I squeeze a few drops of juice from a halved lemon over the dish, then grind sea salt on top.

            I decide to eat my long-awaited broccolini at the dining room table, like it’s special, like I’m special, and not someone who eats most meals either at her desk while looking at the computer or on the couch while watching television.

            The first bite is soft and warm on my tongue. I eat slowly, with my eyes closed. The richness of butter, the tang of lemon, make the vegetable taste luxurious, sultry even.

            All of my excited preparation no longer feels the least bit silly. My effort was well worth it. The broccolini tastes like I picked it on a walk through a field rather than ordered it online. As if I prepared it over an open flame outdoors rather than in a suburban kitchen. I feel like I’m in a fairy tale — “The Woman Who Eats Yellow Flowers” — and I don’t want to leave.

            I consider standing back up to get my phone for the purpose of taking a photo of the dish and tweeting it at him with the text, “You’re an influencer!”

            I refrain. This moment is mine.


Jay Vera Summer


Jay Vera Summer is a writer, editor, and artist living in Chicagoland with her small dog, Walnut.