Sunday, January 27, 2013

Broccoli's Moment

It's nearly impossible to go to a restaurant these days without seeing kale or Brussels sprouts on the menu in some iteration -- braised kale, roasted Brussels sprouts, kale chips, or even both shaved raw into a salad. Coaxed out of their inherently disagreeable states with tart dressings or a blast of high heat and fat, they've become as ubiquitous as the requisite roast chicken or short rib entree.

While untreated kale can be bitter and as texturally appealing to the palate as sandpaper, and anyone who has had steamed Brussels sprouts can attest that they are not necessarily a picnic in the park either, both are experiencing a moment. Gone are the stigmas from childhood. Even devout burger-loving, pork-rib-eating carnivores have pledged allegiance to the great green vegetables -- particularly when they are cooked in, well, bacon fat.

But this is what we do.
We go crazy for an ingredient or preparation and suddenly it's fried pig's ears and 63-degree eggs and sunchokes everywhere until someone declares that 64-degree eggs are even better, and that salsify is the new sunchoke, and that frying pig's ears doesn't change the fact that they're still... pig's ears.

Yet even with the capriciousness with which we move from one food item to the next as if we're afraid that by liking romanesco for more than a month we'll lose our street cred, there's one ingredient that has yet to have its moment on the modern gastronom's plate.


As the directive "Eat your broccoli!" would suggest, the cruciferous vegetable does not enjoy a particularly favorable reputation. The victim of too many overzealous steam-treatments at the hands of too many parents trying to force-feed some form of nutrient upon their offspring, it seems destined to a fate as one of the most abhorred of health foods.

Sure it can be found fairly regularly on standard restaurant menus in more-or-less the same form that perpetuated its loathed status to begin with, but its appearance is rare on the farm-to-table, seasonal, gastro-fill-in-the-blank, small plates restaurants that are currently ruling the culinary roost. It isn't being massaged with oil and roasted beyond recognition or shaved into a "Caesar" salad, because, quite simply, people don't get excited about broccoli.

Yet if there was ever someone capable of turning the tide on broccoli it would be Nancy Silverton -- a woman who catapulted LA into the spotlight as a serious pizza town with her transfixing crusts and bewitching toppings at Pizzeria Mozza. Goat cheese, bacon, roasted garlic, and leeks. Squash blossoms oozing ricotta.

And yes, broccoli.

But not just any broccoli, of course. Painstakingly slow-cooked broccoli, braised for two hours in a slurry of translucent onions and garlic slivers until all traces of bitterness are relaxed away and the florets turn an alarming swampy green. In any other restaurant or kitchen the offensive color would be a visual cue to immediately head toward the nearest exit, yet here, the color means it's there. It's reached that transcendent stage where it ceases to be the ugly step-sister of the vegetable world and becomes "Broccoli!" exclamation point -- the thing that you find yourself eating out of the pan, lazy onions tethering themselves around your fingers as you try to reconcile how this could be... broccoli.

You'll toss it with pasta, top it with a fried egg, or pile it onto a piece of toast  with shards of pecorino and lemon zest until you can barely detect the bread underneath.

And you won't care that it's not trendy. You won't care that everyone else at the farmer's market is snatching up the kale and Brussels sprouts. You'll be making a bee-line for the broccoli, because this, this is broccoli's moment.

Slow-Cooked Broccoli
Adapted from Nancy Silverton

Notes: I'd heard rumors about this broccoli -- awed whispers around the blogosphere and LA dining circuit, but it wasn't until a recent trip to Short Cake at the Original Farmer's Market that I experienced it for myself. The slow-cooked broccoli was heaped upon a piece of toasted La Brea Bakery bread, and ensconced in bechamel and aged white cheddar cheese to form the kind of open-faced sandwich that puts all others to shame. Transfixed, I immediately set out to replicate the life-changing broccoli for myself at home.

This recipe takes patience, so don't endeavor to make it when you are already hungry or don't have a good two hours to kill before eating. That said, if time is an issue, the process can be significantly shortened by covering the pan. But part of what makes this recipe so special is the care that goes into it. Broccoli has never had it better.

2 fresh, meaty heads of broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into paper thin slivers
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Lemon juice, lemon zest

Cut the broccoli into neat florets, leaving about 1-inch of the stalk still intact. Slice heartier florets in half or into thirds so all the pieces are roughly the same size. Using a steamer or salted pot of water, lightly steam the broccoli for approximately 2 minutes, or until broccoli turns bright green. Drain broccoli and rinse with cold water, then pat dry.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, broccoli, and salt. Stir together, then reduce the heat to low, and cook broccoli, stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 to 2 or more hours, until it turns an offensive muddy green. Sprinkle with red chili flakes to taste, and cook for another 5 or so minutes. Before serving, finish with a touch of lemon juice and/or lemon zest to brighten the flavors.


Banana Wonder said...

When will it be broccoli's turn? Maybe you are pushing an envelope here, TALF. I love the broc - my fav way is roasted with with olive oil, sea salt and sesame seeds. So good!

Ashley said...

I'm sure this is easily recreated at home, but sometimes I can't be bothered: the curried broccoli salad in WF's prepared food section (I know...) is pretty incredible.

LAwonders SoCal said...

Love broccoli and hope to see it glorified just as much as kale & brussel sprouts.

Diana said...

Anna - Love the idea of sesame seeds! Will definitely have to try that next. Maybe with a bit of sesame oil too?

Ashley - Hah, I'll have to check that one out the next time I don't want to be bothered. ;)

LA Wonders - Hear hear!

Gastronomer said...

I gotta try this! Soon.

NoYutsNoButs said...

Broccoli florets & Cauli-flower are my favorites. Raw, dipped in Ranch, steamed, fried, roasted, blanched, pickled, sauteed, crudit'ed. I likes it all. I esp like Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce and Gjelina's broccolini!

Jess said...

I'm totally guilty of leaving broccoli in the dust; or rather, have made it The Green Thing I Force My Kids to Eat while I chow on kale and Brussels. But broccoli is still always a utility player. It'll fully come back and get its due, don't worry!

Diana said...

Cathy - You really do! Just make sure you have a few hours to do it - the longer it cooks, the better.

Sook - Ugh, Gjelina's broccolini... so good, yet so far.

Jess - Here's hoping so! I'm waiting for the day Jon and Vinny add it to the menu at Animal - right next to the pigs tail. Then we'll know it's made it. ;)

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