Broccoli, Redeemed

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Broccoli with Burrata, Pine Nuts and Warm Anchovy Vinaigrette

 
In the perfect universe that runs parallel to our own, I am an equal-opportunity eater. I enjoy lentils just as much as chocolate cake, will happily consume everything from chitterlings to gastropods with relish, and welcome any form of vegetable matter on my plate with the kind of joy usually reserved for finding forgotten banknotes in my pocket. And of course, the last thing I would ever do is risk losing my card-carrying status among the gastronomically-enlightened by not liking something.

In this reality, however, things are a bit different. The only thing I would trade a piece of chocolate cake for would be a bigger one, I have a serious aversion to anything I deem to be ‘too fishy’, ‘too gamy’, or ‘too chewy’, and well, let’s just say not all green things and I are friends. In fact, on that last point you’ll find the first and last thing I ever agreed with a certain former president of ours about. Unless you were living under a rock (or in another country) circa 1989, you no doubt remember the revelation that shocked the good law-abiding, vegetable-eating citizens of America no matter which side of the political divide they inhabited. "I do not like broccoli, and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it," George Sr. was famously quoted as saying as he banished the green scourge from the White House kitchens. While parents fumed and farmers raged – and all the country’s democrats shrugged their shoulders as if to say, well we didn’t elect him – I couldn’t help but secretly applaud.

It’s a strange kind of détente, this thing broccoli and I have between us. I mean I don’t hate it in the way that I hate, say, Norwegian fish paste, but tolerate is not exactly the right word either. Cabbage, for example, I tolerate with no problem – I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, but I eat it without complaint when it’s there. Cauliflower, on the other hand, despite being a close relative of both broccoli and cabbage, I love - roasted, mashed, gratineed, whatever. Ditto with artichokes and fennel and spinach and about a hundred other types of edible flora. But broccoli is just so difficult; it always ends up either undercooked and stringy or overcooked and soggy, and those little tree-like tops are experts at sucking up voluminous amounts of cooking water which they disgorge on your tongue like a sponge being wrung dry when you bite down. And now that I think of it, a certain traumatic event at my dad’s house in which a sludge of boiled aphids turned up at the bottom of a bowl of organic broccoli probably didn’t help our relationship much either.

For years I only bought broccoli for two reasons: the first, out of some bizarre conviction that choking down a vegetable I don’t like brings me more dietary benefit than one I enjoy, and the second, when making cheese fondue (which admittedly isn’t very often), since those amazing liquid-absorbing properties shine in a whole new light when gruyère, garlic and white wine are involved. In recent years, however, its appearances on our table have been growing less and less frequent, as I realized a life without broccoli is probably not going to kill me, and is also considerably more enjoyable than I’d expected.

Imagine my surprise, then, when leafing through my copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques last weekend, I stumbled across a broccoli recipe I actually wanted to make. And imagine my shock when, approximately five minutes after doing so, I discovered broccoli harbors a secret streak of unfathomable deliciousness, and all it takes to coax that out is a few minutes in a pan with garlic, chili and anchovies, a silky white crown of burrata cheese and a crunchy shower of pine nuts and toasted breadcrumbs. I mean really, who knew a broccoli dish could be so crunchy and creamy, so seductively pungent and so explosively flavorful? Mind you, I wouldn’t go so far as to give up my chocolate cake for it, but let’s face it, in this imperfect universe I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would. And the best part? Well, besides the obvious satisfaction that comes with being able to say for the first time in my life that I do, occasionally at least, like broccoli, there’s the satisfaction in knowing that old Mr. Bush and I have exactly nothing to agree on anymore. Oops…unless, of course, he likes chocolate cake too.

 
Broccoli with Burrata, Pine Nuts and Warm Anchovy Vinaigrette

Okay, okay, what is burrata and where can you get some? This and this should answer the first question, but the second is a bit trickier. If you live in New York or L.A. you’re in luck as The Food Section lists some local sources; if you live elsewhere, you may find you’ll have to do like me and use buffalo mozzarella (FYI: if you’re in the UK, Tesco offers a delicious and not-too-expensive buffalo mozzarella in the ‘Finest’ range). You should not, however, under any circumstances, use that horrible cheapo cow’s milk mozzarella that tastes like wet tissue paper; rather leave the cheese out entirely instead. Or maybe try your luck at something else, like a soft, tangy goat’s cheese? Whatever you do, just don’t let your lack of burrata stand in the way of experiencing this broccoli bliss.
Source: Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
Serves: 6 as a first course (or two very greedy people as a main dish)

3/4 cup (about 80g) fresh breadcrumbs (preferably from sourdough bread)
1/3 cup (80ml) plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70g) pine nuts
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
about 1 lb. (450g) Italian broccoli, sprouting broccoli or broccolini, trimmed
4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter
2-3 anchovy filets
pinch dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 lb. (450g) burrata or fresh buffalo mozzarella
1 medium shallot, sliced
juice of 1 lemon, plus more for serving
salt and pepper 

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Toss the breadcrumbs with one tablespoon of olive oil. Spread them on a baking sheet, and toast 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown and crispy. Spread the pine nuts on another baking sheet, and toast them 4-5 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Crush half the pine nuts in a mortar and combine them with the whole pine nuts, breadcrumbs and parsley in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Blanch the broccoli in the rapidly-boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until just tender. Drain and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and the butter in a large sauté pan over low heat. Add the anchovy and chili and cook 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon as the anchovy melts into the sauce. Add the garlic and thyme and turn off the heat. The garlic will finish cooking in the hot oil. Pour out into a small bowl and season with a generous pinch of salt. Don’t wash out the pan.

Cut the burrata or mozzarella into 6 slices, and then cut each slice in half. Place the sauté pan over high heat. Add the anchovy butter, shallots, and broccoli, and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze or two of lemon juice. Toss well to warm the broccoli and coat it with the anchovy butter. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and lemon juice as needed.

Arrange half the broccoli on a large platter in one layer. Tuck half the burrata slices among the broccoli and continue layering the remaining broccoli and burrata. Shower the pine nut breadcrumbs over the top. Serve with additional lemon slices for squeezing.

 

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28 thoughts on “Broccoli, Redeemed

  1. Hi Melissa – I’m glad that the book convinced you to try the recipe :) I had a chance to enjoy a meal at Lucques as well as some burrata in LA last year and your lovely post has made me want to go back to sunny California! I love making this with purple sprouting broccoli – so I guess you don’t like broccoli & stilton soup either…

  2. I wish I could get some of that sprouting broccoli (or was that broccolini?) here in Estonia – I used to buy that often in Edinburgh (in that supermarket close to Richmond Place, you know:) Such a great, tender flavour.And I agree with evolvingtastes’ comment – you do know how to make a humble vegetable look all fancy and glamorous!

  3. I’m not familiar with broccolini, but from the photo it looks a lot like broccoli rabe/rapini. If this is not simply an anglo-american translation issue, is broccoli rabe a good substitute?Also, I assume based on your aversion to "fishy," that the anchovies impart a nutty rather than fish-like flavor?

  4. I love broccoli and would eat it in just about every form, but this one looks particularly scrumptious. I usually steam it for just the right texture. Btw, I’ve always found it’s a very American ingredient- few other cultures eat broccoli like we do, sometimes I actually miss it when traveling abroad.

  5. Now I am just the opposite; I love broccoli, and cannot abide cauliflower. Oh, and of course I love chocolate cake. But I don’t imagine that I agree with Mr. Bush (Sr. or Jr.) on anything else.

  6. This is just too beautiful to eat! But I would not hesitate either, of course. Your images inspire me to go back into the kitchen and cook something, not just to eat, but to savour! I have just stumbled upon your blog and I am so glad I did. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. I’ve got 3 heads of brocoli growing in the garden right now. Each are about 3" in diameter. Another month to go. This morning, I whispered to head #2 that he’s gonna be used in this recipe!

  8. I loved your broccoli story – I had a good laugh. Dare I say that I do not have anything that I hate eating(well maybe some of the things Anthony Bordain sends down his gullet on "A cooks tour", but my husband feels like this about tripe and oxtongues and stuff.will read him your story.

  9. So happy we found your blog and especially a new way to prepare broccoli. There’s definitely a way to eat healthy and well! Your photographs are outstanding as well. Thanks for the great meal!

  10. Hi Melissa- Can i tell you that after I read your blog I decided to start my own? Just like that! I also sent you an email and right after I said I need to do this too. I loved reading your posts about the Basque Country because that’s where I am from. Thank you for the inspiration!

  11. Nothing is better than burrata. I got some in Philadelphia a few months ago and have just managed to track it down in San Francisco. Heaven!

  12. Thank you, everyone! It warms my heart to know that broccoli has so many devoted and enthusiastic fans. And here I was thinking this recipe was going to be a tough sell…Evolvingtastes – Aw, thank you… I’m blushing now :)Keiko – Oh lucky you, eating at Lucques! Did you enjoy it? I must say, everything I’ve made from the book so far has been wonderful. Someday I’ll get myself to LA…Pille – I’m sorry to hear you can’t find any sprouting broccoli in Estonia. It’s become so common here, which is great for me since I seem to like it better than the regular kind. :)Cindy – It’s basically like broccoli, but with smaller heads and longer, more tender stalks. Since all the names in the recipe come straight from the book, I assume you should be able to find it under one of them in your area. Broccoli rabe might make a decent substitute, but keep in mind it is a completely different plant, unrelated to broccoli! As for the anchovies, I find in preparations like this they add a delicious pungent base note rather than anything overtly fishy.Michele – Well, as long as it’s good-for-you veggies, what’s the harm? If I decide to make something chocolate, however, I’ll warn you not to tune in ;)Mercedes – I had broccoli a few times in Spain, but it was always presented as a some kind of ‘novelty’ vegetable. My host mother would boil it until it was just a quivering mass of cellulose and drown it in garlic-infused oil. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t half bad…Lydia – I can’t imagine not liking cauliflower, so there we are. At least we agree on chocolate cake and presidents!Jaden – You certainly know how to terrorize a vegetable, don’t you? ;)Helena, Kate and White on Rice Couple – Why thank you! I’m so glad I could help with some broccoli inspiration.Nina – I’m with your husband on that one. Just thinking about tripe and oxtongues makes me shudder…Aran – Wow, I’m honored! I look forward to reading about some Basque dishes on your blog.Kyla – Oh, lucky you! I haven’t been able to get ahold of any in Edinburgh yet. One Italian deli keeps insisting they carry it at certain times of the year, but no one seems to know what those times actually are…

  13. I’m lucky to be able to get burrata fairly easy since I live in Italy, and I just happened to have picked up some broccoli yesterday. Wonder what I’ll be making later today….Thank you :)

  14. Based on your commentary, it’s clear that you don’t like broccoli simply because you haven’t been cooking it properly. Watery? Ech! Don’t boil it! Don’t steam it! -Roast- it. Coat with a bit of oil, sprinkle with some coarse salt (kosher, sea salt, whatever), maybe some pepper or red pepper flakes if you feel like it, and throw it on a sheet pan into a hot oven until it starts to turn golden… Dead simple, and I promise you that you’ll discover just how tasty it can be. No cheese needed :-)

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