I have my friend Caterina to thank for this ridiculously simple and ridiculously delicious way to tackle a vegetable that many people find uninspiring.
I should make it clear that I am not one of those people. I grew to love broccoli when a member of the cruciferous family appeared week after week in my vegetable basket. In the Paris area, not much else grows during the winter and I had no choice but to embrace it. This wasn't hard when the broccoli, cauliflower or Italian romanesco came from Joël Thiébault, an inspired vegetable gardener who supplies the best restaurants in Paris.
I have to admit, though, that most often the broccoli went into soup. In winter, I could eat soup every day and possibly the most soothing of them all is broccoli and cheese, which might involve cantal, comté, cheddar (which I can find at Monoprix) or roquefort. I start by sweating an onion in butter or olive oil, then add the peeled and sliced broccoli stems, a sliced potato and vegetable stock. When the vegetables are tender, I throw in the cut-up broccoli florets and cook for a few more minutes to preserve their emerald-green color. Once they are soft, I purée the soup with the cheese and perhaps a little crème fraîche.
My sister will never forget this soup, not just for its perfect balance of flavors but because, in my first (and only) attempt at using her KitchenAid blender, I sprayed it dramatically all over myself and her kitchen. I think she will forever be finding dried broccoli bits in places like her radio and her toaster. (Lesson: never over-fill a blender.)
I love going to the market with Caterina, whose family comes from Calabria and Piedmont, because she is like a walking encyclopedia of northern and southern Italian cooking. As we walked past a small farmer's stand where the blueish-green broccoli looked particularly enticing, I mentioned that although Sam loves its flower-like stalks, Philippe is not thrilled to eat it as often as we do. "Ah, but how do you prepare it?" she asked, before giving me a Calabrian recipe.
Well, I can't really call it a recipe because it's so easy. Just slice a couple of garlic cloves very thinly and sauté them in a tablespoon of olive oil until they start to turn pale golden. Add a pinch of peperoncino; I use my own Espelette chilli powder, which I made by drying and grinding fresh Espelette peppers with their seeds last autumn. Then toss in about 1 lb of broccoli florets with a few sprinklings of salt and just a little water, no more than 1/4 cup. Cover tightly with a lid. In a few minutes, the broccoli with be vivid green and tender but not mushy. Let any excess water evaporate over high heat. Serve on its own or toss with pasta and parmesan.
In this picture, the broccoli I used is the small variety known as broccoletti; in springtime, it has an almost buttery taste. Even Philippe can't resist it.
5 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
I am going to make both of those recipes this weekend. Thank you for posting. Broccoli from Italy is looking very good in our market just now. One definite benefit of EU membership to Estonia is the ease and speed which fresh produce enjoy on their way to us. As much as I love them in autumn, I am sick of beets, turnips and potatoes.
This soup recipe sounds delicious. My normal recipe has been flat - not rounded out - I thought I was just tired of it but your recipe may be what I am missing. I can't wait to try it. Also, your stories of Paris are wonderful!
Martha: Yes, there is always that point in the year when root vegetables don't look so good any more! Thank goodness for bright green broccoli.
Wendy: The cheese definitely adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, and almost any cheese works. Hope you enjoy it!
This sounds great, and easy. Just the way I like it! I normally cook my broccoli, as you do, drain, dry over a hot flame, then pour on the really good French olive oil and sear. I finish it off with fleur de sel. I like doing the same with green beans, also.