One of the reasons I was so pleased to see the broccoli at the market is that it appeared to be a variety of sprouting (as opposed to heading) broccoli. Sprouting broccoli doesn't produce large, tight heads. Rather it produces heads that are smaller—with thinner, tender stems that make up loose branches of florets. I don't think I have ever seen this kind in the store...but it is often the kind I buy at the farmers' market. Maybe it's easier to grow? Or longer producing? Doesn't hold up well for transport? Whatever the reasons, I'm glad I can get it at the farmers' market. Sprouting broccoli is beautiful. I also find it to be much more tender and flavorful than the heading varieties. (But I admit that those too are more flavorful when purchased at the farmers' market instead of the grocery store). If you don't have access to sprouting broccoli, I would recommend making the salad I'm posting today with broccolini rather than a heading variety of broccoli.
The broccoli salad we had for dinner truly was "impromptu" in the sense that I made it with things I already had on hand. If I had had other ingredients in my pantry...or it were later in the season...it would have looked slightly different. The basic idea is a salad of broccoli and dried (or canned) beans...from that point, lots of possibilities present themselves. Instead of spring onions, some thinly sliced (and rinsed) red onions would be nice. Chickpeas can be replaced with a favorite white bean...or perhaps some edamame. Baby spinach would make a fine substitute for arugula (although I would miss the edge that it gives). I particularly loved the color and heat of the radishes...but shaved fennel might be good too. The final garnish of salty Pecorino rounds out this salad nicely...but other salty cheeses would work well...maybe some thin slabs of Ricotta Salata, or a few small cubes of Feta (folded into the salad itself). If you don't have any salty cheeses on hand, you might try smashing up an anchovy or two and adding that to the salad along with the spring onion.
The vinaigrette I made is adapted from a recipe for a similar salad from the New York Times. It is quite mild. When I tasted the final salad, I wanted a bit more tang, so I just added more lemon juice to the salad itself. You could make the vinaigrette stronger by increasing the vinegar or lemon (or mustard)...or reducing the olive oil. A vinaigrette should always be done to taste any way...and you may like it just the way it is.
We enjoyed this as a vegetarian entrée, garnished with a halved hard cooked egg. Served this way, it was substantial and filling...more than enough to serve two people with moderate appetites. It would be even more substantial...and would easily serve three...if some canned, flaked tuna were folded in. Without the egg, it would make a filling and delicious side dish...particularly good topped with grilled fresh tuna or swordfish.
Late Spring Salad of Broccoli, Chickpeas & Arugula
1 T. red wine vinegar
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 T. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Salt & Pepper
1 t. Dijon mustard
1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas)
1 small spring onion (including a few inches of the green), trimmed, quartered lengthwise and very thinly sliced (a generous 2 T. minced onion)
pinch Cayenne pepper
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 lb. trimmed sprouting broccoli
3 small radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
2 handfuls Arugula, large stems trimmed away (about 1 1/2 oz. trimmed weight)
lemon juice, to taste
Thinly shaved Pecorino
2 or 3 hard cooked eggs, halved (optional)
Make the vinaigrette: Place the vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, mustard and salt & pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Set aside. (See notes.)
Place the chickpeas, onion, cayenne and olives in a large bowl. Season with salt. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add just enough vinaigrette to coat the beans—they shouldn't be swimming in vinaigrette. Set aside and let marinate a bit (10 to 15 minutes or so) while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Cut the broccoli into medium-sized florets. If the natural florets of the broccoli are large (wide), you may need to halve or quarter them. Blanch the broccoli in rapidly boiling salted water. When just tender (the amount of time this will take will depend on the broccoli you are using...mine took about 3 to 4 minutes), drain and shock under cold running water. Shake well (the florets like to hang onto lots of water...which will dilute the vinaigrette) and spread on kitchen towels to dry. (Alternatively, instead of refreshing the broccoli in cold water, you may simply spread the blanched broccoli on kitchen towels, allowing it to steam dry as it cools.)
When ready to serve the salad, add the broccoli, radishes and arugula to the bowl (adding more vinaigrette as necessary) and toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Divide the salad among serving plates. Thinly shave some Pecorino over all. Serve, garnished with halved hard cooked eggs, if desired. Serves 2 as a vegetarian entrée, 3 as an accompaniment to meat or fish.
• If using broccolini instead of broccoli, prepare it by trimming off the florets and then cutting the stems 1/4-inch thick on a long bias.
• The vinaigrette for this salad is quite mild. If you like a sharper vinaigrette, only use 1/4 cup of olive oil...or increase the lemon juice to 1 1/2 T. The recipe makes more than enough vinaigrette for this salad.
• This recipe is easily doubled. If you double the salad, you should only need to make 1 1/2 times the vinaigrette.