This Halloween, I'm threatening to show up as my favourite superhero: a cancer-fighting crusader who makes people feel good. I'm not going as Mehmet Oz or one of those superfood smoothies meant to make you live forever. But I will be investing in a lot of green velveteen.
If you first met under unfavourable circumstances, please allow me to reintroduce you to broccoli: the secret agent of sulphur, the conqueror of inflammation for two and a half millennia and the miracle plant of Isidore, the patron saint of farmers. And of all the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, which, amazingly, are the same species of plant), broccoli stands out as the most powerful source of vitamin C. It's pretty hard for the human body to overdose on this vitamin, and if broccoli were as popular as it deserves to be, then there wouldn't be enough of it in the cosmos to satisfy me. High in fibre, trace minerals and detoxifying antioxidants, it's nature's perfect vegetable.
When I'm reminded of George Bush Senior, I often flash back to his junior moment of indiscretion in 1990 regarding his lifelong aversion to broccoli. His admission incensed Californian broccoli farmers, who trucked two tonnes of the stuff to the White House. (It was later donated to local shelters for the homeless.) Genes aren't always destiny, but nobody's perfect: when George W Bush was asked, 11 years later, for his view on broccoli, he reportedly paused, gave it a thumbs down and said, "Make it cauliflower."
Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater is a brilliant journal of Matthew Amster-Burton's culinary escapades with his daughter, Iris. His pithy observations of food are both mercurial and adorable. He quotes from John Allemang's book, The Importance of Lunch and Other Real-Life Adventures in Good Eating: "What vegetables need is more of a helping hand." Amster-Burton then breaks it down for readers by explaining that "helping hand" is really just a euphemism for "fat".
You won't catch me disagreeing there. I'm not especially fond of raw broccoli, except for crisp, cooling spears of raw broccoli marrow, which taste almost nothing like broccoli – think jicama crossed with fresh ginger and raw asparagus. I'm talking about ordinary supermarket broccoli – not broccoli rabé (rapini or broccoletti) or spring's purple sprouting broccoli, and not gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), or broccolini, a trademarked hybrid vegetable often mistaken for young broccoli.
Following recent dinners of fried chicken, smoked chicken quesadillas, steak nachos and a barbecue chicken pizza, we went vegetarian – a half-baked excuse to test broccoli recipes. This isn't to say we ate lightly: there were broccoli Parmesan fritters (from www.smittenkitchen.com), roasted broccoli with red pepper, garlic, anchovies and buttered panko, and broccoli smothered in a cheesy casserole. Finally, chef Craig Koketsu's broccoli (from www.saveur.com) is a guaranteed gateway dish for haters, provided they aren't lactose-intolerant: it requires two heads of broccoli, two cups of whipping cream, two cups of cheese and two cups of Cheetos. I salute anyone who has the nerve for this, but I'd trade in my serving for a big bowl of steamed buttered broccoli or, best of all, broccoli pizza.
The intensely personal and, perhaps, indefensible trinity of jalapeño, feta and pineapple is my favourite way to top a mediocre pizza, but for excellent pizza, it's usually broccoli, anchovies, or both.