№ 40 - Blanched Broccoli
I’ve spent much of my life ignoring broccoli because I thought it was bland and boring. As it turns out, I have been missing out. It doesn’t take much to make this most prosaic of vegetables a highlight on the dinner table: all it needs is a few minutes of your close attention.
Blanching usually refers to a cooking technique, in which vegetables like English peas or green asparagus are boiled briefly before being plunged into ice water. The idea is to stop the cooking process abruptly to preserve the bright colors and prevent your vegetables from overcooking and turning mushy, like the broccoli I had learned to avoid. You end up with ice cold vegetables though and, while you could eat them in salads or reheat them briefly before serving, this recipe takes a slightly different approach: Like Wayne Gretzky skating to where the puck is going to be, you remove the broccoli from the boiling water a few moments before it’s cooked. Without the ice bath, the broccoli continues to cook for a short period outside of the pot and the result is a hot, crunchy, almost nutty-flavored delight. For proof, you could do worse than ask our little Lina, who, ever since eating solids, devours obscene quantities of this stuff.
Bring some salted water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Rinse the broccoli and cut the florets off the thicker, tough stems. Slice the largest florets in half so that all the pieces cook evenly. Add the broccoli to the boiling water and bring the water back to the boiling point quickly. Start tasting the broccoli after 5 minutes and cook until it has started to soften, but still has a little more bite than you’d like. The cooking time varies depending on how thickly you cut the florets, but shouldn’t exceed 10 minutes. Drain the water from the pot immediately by holding both pot and lid over the sink with some oven mitts or kitchen towels and opening the lid a crack. Dress the broccoli in the cooking pot with more salt to taste, a bit of lemon juice and your best olive oil, shake gently with the lid on and serve immediately.
Note that if you’re cooking a larger quantity than this recipe calls for, the broccoli will cool more slowly and therefore continue to cook for longer outside of the water. To avoid skating past the puck and ending up with disappointingly soft broccoli, drain the boiling water even sooner or better yet, dress some of the broccoli in a separate bowl.