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Fresh in the market ...

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Beyond broccoli, elegant tender 'asparation' makes an entrance

(CNN) -- Adventurous cooks from coast to coast have been delighted to find an elegant, dark green vegetable showing up sporadically in markets under the highbrow name "asparation," or more descriptively, "broccolini."

Two California growers produce the vegetable, a surprisingly tender and sweet cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. It is completely edible, from slim stems to broccoli-like head of flowering buds, and makes an attractive presentation on a diner's plate.

The Mann Packing Co. in the fertile Salinas Valley began promoting the stuff with markets and consumers in the fall. Their official name: Broccolini Brand Baby Broccoli. Sanbon Inc., the only other American grower, calls it asparation, as does the plant's original developer, the Sakata Seed company of Yokohama, Japan.

"It's a little sweet and a little bitter," said Benjamin Yang, director of food service for Harry's Farmers Market and catering operation outside Atlanta, Georgia. Yang complained that modern hybrids of broccoli don't have much flavor, and since he loves vegetables, he tried asparation/broccolini himself.

Yang's quick favorite way to prepare the vegetable starts with blanching it for not more than two minutes, then flipping it briefly in a hot wok with mashed garlic, salt and a lightly flavored cooking oil.

  KEY INGREDIENT
Broccolini is a hybrid -- a cross between Chinese kale and broccoli. The result is a slightly sweet, tender green vegetable with edible buds and stems.

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Nutritional powerhouse

Broccolini is packed with nutrients, offering as much vitamin C as orange juice.It also provides a substantial amount of folate, vitamin A and potassium, as well as some iron, calcium, vitamin B and fiber. The Mann Packing Co. offers nutrition and cooking tips at its Web site, www.broccoli.com.

Like any trendy new item, broccolini can sometimes be hard to find and expensive. But Mann hopes prices will come down and the supply will increase as more consumers discover broccolini.

The long, slender stems and flowering buds can be cooked in a variety of ways, but always briefly: It can be steamed, blanched, or microwaved, or even blanched, marinated and then grilled with the buds wrapped in foil to prevent charring.

If the names asparation and broccolini don't catch on, there's yet another name, used mostly by Europeans. They simply call it "tender stem" and enjoy its slightly sweet, slightly peppery flavor.



RELATED SITES:
Mann Packing Company
Sakata Seed
Harry's Farmers Market

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