The year is approximately 25 B.C., and the world’s primordial broccoli is about to be presented to a human for possible consumption. “Aspetti!” hisses the emperor’s chef, his eyes wide as the tiny treelike structures make their way to the grand dining table of Domus Augusti. “Wait! Is there any way to make it look any less…limp? Or any more…green?” But it’s too late—the florets are already in motion. And the emperor, never one to mince words, takes a single bite before pronouncing it “fine but kinda boring,” thereby relegating it to side dish status, at best, for thousands of years.
I’m fairly certain that none of the above actually happened, unless you count as fact a wild quarantine dream I had on Advil PM, which also involved Billie Eilish and, at one point, a boy I barely knew in high school.
But consider the gist: Bad broccoli is a bummer. The green stuff, which does in fact have origins in ancient Rome, is said to have been engineered by the Etruscans, as an offshoot of cabbage. And some of its many modern iterations—looking at you, cafeteria steam tables, salad bars, and my late grandmother’s “casserole surprise”—are a stark reminder of that cabbagey connection, with brocc that’s soft and grassy, lacking in notable character. (No disrespect to properly prepared cabbage, which is a separate topic.)