Spigarello

Spigarello plants in June

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

When I read seed-catalog descriptions that tell me a plant “tastes just like [fill in the blank],” I have to wonder, well, why don’t I just grow the original plant, rather than the taste-alike? Sometimes, it seems like the substitute might be the easier route, but we all know how shortcuts often have a way of turning out to be disappointing, to say the least.

If I’d put some effort into getting a good bed of real asparagus going last year, for instance, I’d probably be able to harvest a few stalks this spring, and they’d really be asparagus. Instead, I went for the seemingly simpler route of growing asparagus peas and spent months waiting for hardly a mouthful of pods that weren’t all that asparagus-like anyway.

I’ve made similarly poor plant choices before, so you’d think I’d know better. And yet, I fell for the “tastes just like” line a second time last year, with a plant called spigarello (spigariello), or Italian leaf broccoli. Last year was also my first year for real broccoli, and I had my doubts about how it would do, so I thought maybe the spigarello would make a good backup. Well, the broccoli turned out great and kept producing sideshoots through the summer, so I didn’t pay much attention to the spigarello until early fall, by which time the broccoli was too wormy to harvest anymore.

Spigarello plants in July

By early September, the five spigarello plants I’d started indoors in late March and set out in early May were about 3 feet tall, and they looked rather more like kale than broccoli plants. But they sure did have lots of leaves, in a beautiful powdery blue and in a variety of textures: Some were tightly crimped and others were smoother and broader. Most importantly, none of them had been bothered by the cabbageworms, so I figured it was time to try them.

Spigarello plants in September

I clipped off a handful of the most tender, small new leaves, and Mom and I tried them in our salads. And wonder of wonders: They actually did taste like broccoli! I can’t speak to how they’d be cooked, but I do know that they made a great fresh broccoli substitute into December, and at least one of the plants may even have survived the winter. I have plenty of real broccoli already started for this year, but I think I will sow more spigarello too, since it’s handsome enough to be ornamental as well as edible.

5 responses to this post.

  1. I have never heard of it so this is interesting. I like Broccoli and this looks pretty growing in the garden also. Thank you

    It is very pretty, Anna. I think you’d enjoy it!
    -Nan

  2. I did the same thing with broccoli raab. It was good raw, but my husband wouldn’t eat it cooked, and he loves broccoli.

    Oh, maybe I should try that one. Mom is a big fan of broccoli in any form!
    -Nan

  3. Ha! I’ve always felt that way about the “tastes just like chicken!” things, too. In that case, why don’t people just eat chicken (unless, say, their yards are overrun with rattlers)?!

    But I agree with you and Frances–the spigariello looks like a wonderful addition to the roster of silver-blue foliage plants. “Looks just like an ornamental!”

    Exactly, Elly, about the “tastes like chicken” thing! And think of all the things that supposedly taste like spinach; yeah, right.
    -Nan

  4. Nancy,
    Frances at Faire Gardens sent me over here to see how you tame wild places in your garden. I wrote a tongue in cheek post about using goats to clear out the honeysuckle, she said you used a brush hog?

    Thanks, I am going to read some older posts while I am here.

    gail

    Hi Gail!

    Frances is probably thinking of some of my posts over at Gardening Gone Wild, such as this one: Meadow Mowing Time.

    I’m glad you stopped by, anyway!
    -Nan

  5. Your plants look great. I’ve grown spigariello for a couple years and they do wonderfully here, much more heat tolerant than broccoli. I can attest I love the leaves chopped and sauteed in olive oil with red pepper flakes and a fresh grinding of black pepper.

    Thanks for visiting, Nicole, and for your suggestions for preparing the spigariello. Mmmmm….
    -Nan

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