After years of gardening in Arizona (imagine elaborately constructed garden shades, waiting for rain for months on end, chopping at caliche and swatting javelinas), gardening in the northeast seems like a fairy tale. I barter a bag of magic beans, throw them casually out the door, and the next thing you know there’s a fava stalk grown halfway to Queens. I drop a few broccoli roots in some composty dirt and weeks later I’m harvesting glorious, fragrant, emerald crowns, perfect for roasting.
Of course, every fairy tale has a villain, and in the urban garden fairy tale, the villain is urban humans, who have poisoned the soil with car fumes and paint runoff and turned that fertile luscious garden moss into a lead-filled poison pit.
In much of the world, having more than 100 parts-per-million (ppm) of lead in your soil is considered unacceptable. The US EPA rolls its eyes at this caution, and in a puff of SUV exhaust, proclaims that up to 500 ppm of lead is totally no big whoop.
In many urban areas, the soil has been contaminated to 2 or 3 or even 4 times that. (My soil tested at 1,008 ppm of lead, so even the EPA might squirm over a home-sowed salad from my backyard.) Lead won’t hurt your flowers – and flowers will, over time, help repair your soil – but lead contaminated soil can leach toxins into your homegrown food, especially my favorite leafy or rooty veggies.
In my lead-bed, I grow lots and lots of flowers that I fertilize with organic materials and put to bed every year under a layer of compost from my community farm. For my incredible edibles, my friends and I built a simple raised bed and dropped a few seedlings in it.
Last night we ate my first fresh broccoli of the season. Fresh-picked broccoli has a flavor that’s intense and deep and a little nutty, and completely unrecognizable when tasted alongside its wan grocery store counterparts. It’s great raw but also pretty unbelievably fairy-tale good roasted with a little bit of lemon.
Roasted Fresh Broccoli: Unleaded
- As fresh-as-you-can-get-it broccoli, including stems
- ½ tablespoon of olive oil or sesame oil per head of broccoli
- ¼ teaspoon salt per head of broccoli
- sprinkle of sugar
- black pepper to taste
- a few lemon wedges
- Harvest your broccoli from low in the plant so that you get lots of stem.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and put a baking sheet on the lowest rack in the oven.
- Remove the stem and set it aside. Cut the broccoli in quarters or eighths so that each floret has at least one flat side.
- Peel the stem, removing the tough outer skin (save this for your compost), and cut it into ½-inch thick (or smaller) spears.
- Toss the broccoli and stems in the oil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with sugar (this is just to help encourage some roasty browning on the broccoli’s edges – you don’t need more than a very tiny sprinkle).
- Working quickly so as not to cool the baking sheet, remove the baking sheet and spread the broccoli over it with the flat sides down.
- Put the baking sheet back in the oven and roast for 8-12 minutes, until the edges of the broccoli have browned a little bit and smell kind of toasty.
- Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve with wedges of lemon.