Various kinds of broccoli casseroles, salads, and other dishes are staples across the U.S.A. and other parts of the world and the recipe I am presenting today is a vintage Southern family recipe passed down to me.
Historically, broccoli was brought to England from Antwerp by Peter Scheemakers and was then introduced to the United States by Southern Italian immigrants in the 1700s, although it didn’t really become popular in the U.S.A. until sometime in the 1920s. By the 1950s, however, broccoli cheese casseroles were common place in the U.S.A.
Broccoli and cauliflower — as well as many other plants — were cultivated a couple of thousand years ago, in ancient Roman times, by Italian farmers from a common weed — the wild mustard plant, Brassica oleracea — a plant which historically was foraged from the wild along European coast lines. Today, Canada is the largest producer of domesticated farm grown mustard.
Genetic modification of plants definitely isn’t something new, but it once required years and even several decades to do. It required hand selection to choose plants with the desired traits and growing those selected plants, then hand selecting from that batch those with even more of the most desired traits, growing those plants, and repeating until the desired plant is finally obtained. It is very much like mating animals to obtain certain desired traits and repeating until an entirely new breed (or in the case of plants, a new variety) is developed. However, it usually takes far longer to do this with plants, with a greater number of failures and set backs, than it does with animals. Today, however, it is being done much more rapidly in laboratories.
Even before modern day laboratory GMOs, foods were already being genetically modified and entirely new man-made varieties were being created over 2000 years ago — from a weed.
This one plant, an ancient weed once growing in the wild along the coast lines of Europe, was selectively bred over centuries and traveled all around the world was instrumental in creating dozens of different vegetables.
Other plants cultivated from the wild mustard plant, Brassica oleracea, include: kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, rutabaga, cabbage, collard greens, Chinese broccoli, various colors of savoy cabbages, and kohlrabi. By crossing a turnip with cauliflower, the rutabaga was created in Sweden.
These healthy man-made vegetables give us much needed anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, folate (folic acid), fiber, potassium, and Vitamin K!
For more information about this ancient weed and the vegetables
that were cultivated from it, see:
The extraordinary diversity of Brassica oleracea
For more about modern GMOs see my series of blogs:
But enough with the basic historical background and science surrounding about how broccoli was created by humans 2000 years ago — here is my handed down family recipe:
Broccoli Cauliflower Bacon Cheese Casserole
8 slices of bacon, divided
4 cups fresh broccoli florets
4 cups cauliflower
1/4 cup diced red/purple onion
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cups grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated extra sharp cheddar
1 cup sour cream
1 (4-ounce) sleeve Keebler® Club® crackers, crushed
1/2 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Note: Townhouse® and Ritz® crackers may be substituted.
To prepare the bacon and baking dish:
Fry bacon crispy and set aside to drain and cool on paper towels.
Pour some of the bacon grease into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and allow to cool. Using fingers or a paper towel rub it around to coat the baking dish lightly and evenly in grease.
Set aside and preheat the oven to 350 F degrees.
To prepare the vegetables:
Cut the cauliflower, broccoli florets, and any small tender broccoli stems into bite-size pieces.
Steam the broccoli and cauliflower until tender.
Place in the prepared baking dish and toss with onions.
Crumble four slices of bacon and toss with the vegetables in the baking dish.
To prepare cheese sauce:
In a small saucepan, melt the stick of butter over medium heat.
Add the flour and whisk until the flour has been absorbed and the mixture turns lightly golden with large dry bubbles.
Add the evaporated milk, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat, whisking, until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat.
Add the sour cream and shredded cheeses and stir continuously over low heat until the cheeses have melted.
Drizzle the cheese sauce slowly and evenly over the vegetables in the baking dish. Toss gently to coat vegetables.
To prepare topping:
Mix the topping ingredients together. Top the casserole in an even layer.
Crumble the remaining bacon and sprinkle evenly over top.
Bake for about half to three-quarters of an hour (30 to 45 minutes), until bubbling and the top is golden brown.
Slice and serve.
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