Annabel Langbein: Broccoli power
Mollie Katzen’s cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest was first published in America in 1982, at a time when vegetarian cookbooks were few and far between. As with her first book, The Moosewood Cookbook (touted by The New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbooks in history), Katzen designed, illustrated and hand-lettered each page of Broccoli Forest.
The result is whimsical and charming. On the cover, set against a purple background, is an illustration of a forest of broccoli “trees”, framed by tiny stars. The actual recipe for the Enchanted Broccoli Forest dish (one of 200 in the collection) is a kind of cheesy brown rice pilaf with long-stemmed florets of broccoli sticking upright from the rice, like a mini forest. I’m not sure of the motivation for this presentation, but I have no doubt that many a mother, myself included, has since employed the tactic of making broccoli look like trees as a ruse for encouraging their young children to eat it.
Cooking technique has a lot to do with whether you are going to like broccoli or not. Overcooked, it is simply vile. My kids would never eat broccoli until I started peeling off the outer skin on the stems before cooking it very lightly. You may lose a few nutrients, but the upside is that it is all eaten, as peeling makes it sweeter and more tender.
For perfect results every time, cut a head of broccoli into florets and pop them into a pot with about a quarter of a cup of water, a small glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt and the finely grated zest of half a lemon. Cover the pot and cook until the liquid has pretty much all evaporated and the broccoli is just tender but still beautifully vibrant green (3-5 minutes depending on the size of the florets).
If you want a crisp, rather than just-tender, result for a salad or before grilling, simply pour boiling water over the peeled florets, add a pinch of salt and leave to stand for 3-4 minutes before cooling under cold water and draining thoroughly. Avoid lemon juice or vinegar in any salad dressing, or if including acid in the dressing toss it through just prior to serving, or the broccoli will lose its vibrant green colour.
Buy broccoli with tight, dark green heads and store it in the fridge. Once the florets start to turn yellow it takes on an unpleasant odour and flavour.
When broccoli is cheap and plentiful it’s a good vegetable to freeze, but you’ll need to blanch it first. To do this, drop the florets into a big pot of lightly salted boiling water for one minute, then cool them down as fast as you can by draining them through a sieve, rinsing with cold water and then chilling in iced water. Shake out all the moisture (a salad spinner works well for this) before bagging and freezing. Date, label and use within six months.
This week’s recipes show the versatility of this vitamin-supercharged vegetable.
Lightly cooked broccoli makes a great addition to pasta sauces, soups, pies and salads. For a simple, filling meal try it in this flavoursome polenta bake.
This makes a great side dish with roasted or grilled fish, chicken or meat. It can also be turned into an easy salad — just toss it through rocket with a little shredded cooked chicken.
I always order this if I see it on the menu at a Japanese restaurant. The creamy Asian-style mayo is such a good partner for broccoli. Cook, cool and dress the broccoli ahead of time and garnish with mayo and seeds just before serving.