Friday, May 15, 2020

Roasted Broccoli & White Bean Salad

Broccoli has been a source of much surprise to me over the years.  At first glance it is just a ubiquitous and odd looking little tree of a vegetable that seems to have limited use.   I loathed it when I was growing up.  I am embarrassed to admit that there is nothing unusual about that latter bit.  I despised most vegetables.  Like many Americans of my generation, I grew up experiencing broccoli that was almost always badly steamed (in an effort to eradicate what?  Salt?  Fat?).  It was either soggy or crunchy…and either devoid of flavor or worse, the source of the rank sulfurous odor that emanates from all of the Brassicas when stored too long or cooked improperly.

The good news is that once I discovered that my disdain for most vegetables had to do with an overlong stay in transit or storage and/or improper cooking (coupled with a childlike resistance to the unfamiliar…and then a mulish tendency to refuse to admit that maybe something I had been compelled to sample wasn’t really that bad), I learned to enjoy broccoli.  But as I mentioned at the first, even after I learned to like it, I thought of it as limited.  Blanched in well salted water until just tender...and then doused in olive oil or melted butter…it can be eaten as is, or tossed into a myriad of other preparations (vegetable medleys, pastas, salads, grain pilafs, quiche, etc.).  But it’s still just broccoli in a new location.

Then I discovered raw broccoli.  Not giant, fodder-like, florets that are supposed to be improved by a dunk in some gloppy sauce.  But rather, finely chopped, grated or shaved stems and florets that are tossed with a tasty vinaigrette or dressing.  (If you’ve read my French carrot salad post, the comparison is like that of carrot sticks to a grated carrot salad…).  If you have never had broccoli prepared this way, you should definitely give it a try.

But the real broccoli game changer for me was when I discovered something called “long-cooked broccoli.”  Yes.  I know.  It sounds truly awful.  But by the time I ran across it in Alice Waters’ seminal cookbook Chez Panisse Vegetables I had learned to try almost anything if it was recommended or prepared by a knowledgeable and talented cook or chef.  Even so, when I tried it I was astonished by how delicious it was.  Broccoli cooked slowly—in minimal liquid, with a generous quantity of olive oil, until it’s falling apart—takes on a concentrated nutty and sweet flavor that is hard to describe.  It’s true that it looks terrible.  But it is easy to camouflage the look.  I have since incorporated it into pasta sauces, risotto, soups, etc.  It is also delicious piled on a crostini. 

You would think at this point I would be willing to try just about any preparation of broccoli.  But I seem to be a slow learner.  I resisted the idea of roasted broccoli for years.  Our culture is just so “charred” food crazy…and sometimes it just doesn’t work.  For some reason I didn’t think it would work with broccoli.

Then one evening recently I was looking around for some ideas for dinner.  Broccoli was the only fresh vegetable I had on hand.  I didn’t want any of my usual suspects (pasta, eggs, grains…).  In poking around on line I ran across a broccoli and white bean salad that looked like it had potential.  The broccoli in it was roasted.  Since I was kind of bored with my usual cooking habits, I decided to try it. 

Of course it was delicious.  The caramelized—dare I say it, slightly charred—bits of the florets are loaded with the same kind of concentrated, nutty sweetness that I love about long-cooked broccoli.  The salad I made was nothing more than a combination of white beans, broccoli and arugula pesto—but the roasting of the broccoli gave it a more complex flavor (which is exactly what I was hoping for). 

Not only was it delicious, but it was a big hit on my IG feed.  So of course I had to share it here.  I had hoped that I would have lots of things to post to my blog during our “stay at home” moment.  But the reality is that I have been cooking a lot of my old favorites (which have already been posted…).  Often the “new” things are such never-to-be-duplicated conglomerations of odds & ends and leftovers that they would be of little use to others, even if I were to post them here.  The moments of creativity and learning that have led to some of these dishes will hopefully show up down the road in the form of more fully thought out recipes.  This particular salad—even though born of the remaining half of a can of beans, leftover pesto and a bit of broccoli—seemed to me to be something others would be able to reproduce and enjoy. 

And even if you don’t make the salad, I hope you will try your hand at roasting broccoli (if you haven’t already…I think I’m a bit late to the party on this one….).

Roasted Broccoli & White Bean Salad

12 oz/340 g. broccoli, tough ends trimmed and discarded
2 1/2 to 3 T. olive oil
1/4 to 1/3 c. arugula pesto
1 1/2 to 2 T. water or bean cooking liquid
1 1/2 c. cooked (see below) or canned white beans, drained and rinsed
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
A small handful of arugula
1/3 to 1/2 c. Whipped Feta (or 2 oz. crumbled Feta), recipe below
Warm Flatbread or thick slabs of toasted Artisan-style bread

Separate the florets from the broccoli stems and cut the florets into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces.  Split the stems as necessary so they are no fatter than 1/2-inch and then cut on a long angle into bite-sized pieces.  Place the broccoli in a bowl and drizzle with enough of the olive oil to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and transfer to a 450° oven.  

Roast until tender and well-caramelized—about 20 minutes—turning once about 3/4 of the way through the roasting process.

While the broccoli roasts, place the pesto in a large bowl and thin with a bit of water or bean cooking liquid, if you have it.  Add the beans and toss to coat.  Season to taste.  Set aside and let marinate while the broccoli finishes roasting.

When the broccoli is tender, add to the bowl with the beans.  Toss to combine.  Add more pesto if you like, thinning with more water if necessary.  Taste and add lemon if necessary.

Smear a big spoonful of whipped Feta onto 2 plates, placing it just off center.  

Toss the arugula with a squeeze of lemon and season with salt and pepper.  Scatter over the center of the plate, half on half off the cheese.  Divide the bean and broccoli salad between the plates, mounding it in the center on top of the arugula.  If you did not make the Whipped Feta, crumble some Feta cheese over all.  Drizzle with more olive oil and serve with warm flatbreads (or warm grilled/toasted artisan bread).  Serves 2.

Note:  It would be easy to double this recipe.  Just make sure you have a large enough baking sheet for the broccoli so it isn’t too crowded on the sheet…use two pans if necessary.

Basic Cooked White Beans:
Soak 1/2 c. Great Northern (or other white bean) overnight (or use a modified quick soak).  Drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in a shallow gratin/baking dish, drizzle with some olive oil and add a couple of cloves of garlic, if you like.  Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil.  Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender.  This will take about an hour and 15 minutes.  Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked.  Beans may be cooked.  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid and store in the fridge in their cooking liquid.  Makes 1 1/2 c. cooked beans.

Whipped Feta:
Place a mounded 1/3 c. drained, crumbled Feta, a mounded 1/3 c. whole milk ricotta, and 10 twists of black pepper in the bowl of the food processer fitted with the steel blade.  Process until smooth.  With the machine running, add 2 T.  of extra virgin olive oil in a thin stream.  Pause and scrape down the sides as necessary.  The mixture should get lovely and creamy.  Taste it and adjust with salt, pepper, up to a teaspoon and a half of lemon juice if you like a tangy profile or even more olive oil—you should be able to taste the oil as well as the cheeses.  Store in the fridge for up to a week (bearing in mind that it will thicken considerably during storage if you added lemon).  Makes a generous 3/4 c.  (Adapted from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden)

Printable Version

No comments: