Note: You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing fruits and vegetables. —Ed.
[Photograph: Carolyn Cope]
Let me start by saying that I am as ready as anyone to give this down economy a Chuck Norris–style roundhouse kick to the face. The coming of winter for the second time since the markets tanked really drives that feeling home. I know we're all in this together, but when you self-identify as a Veggie Lady rather than, say, a snowboarder or a Southern Californian, winter brings a particular sense of malaise.
Still, every cloud has its silver lining. Every rose has its thorn. And don't forget the lesser-known platitude that so eloquently combines those two: "Every broccoli has its stem."
No no, hold your roundhouse kicks to the face. I'm serious about this. One of my earliest observations of our society as thoughtlessly wasteful was the realization that I had only ever eaten broccoli stems in my own home. Everywhere else—in restaurants, at school, in frozen vegetable medleys—it was as if the little florets sprouted one by one from the ground. But broccoli stems taste good. If you cook your broccoli with aromatics like garlic and ginger, or if you infuse it with savory sauces, the stems can taste really good, even better than the florets. Broccoli stems are not glamorous, but they are meant to be eaten. I can't help but feel that there's something wrong with a society that throws them away. If we're looking to be less wasteful, they're an awfully good place to start.
So, folks, it ain't much, but as a tangible benefit to the start of another recession-era winter, I bring you one of the easiest and most versatile uses of the whole darn broccoli. Alice Waters' Long-Cooked Broccoli doesn't just toss in some stems where you're only expecting florets. It relies on the stems as an integral part of the dish. This food is humble in the best possible way.
To make this into one of the light and healthy meals I've promised you through the end of the year, top it with some grilled or poached chicken, fish or shellfish, mix it with brown rice or whole grain pasta, or do both. For an easy hors d'oeuvre, serve it on crostini. It's also delicious as as a healthy side dish at a holiday meal. There really isn't much you can't do with long-cooked broccoli. Honestly, you could even serve it to Chuck Norris if the opportunity arose.
Alice Waters' Long-Cooked Broccoli
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.
- 1 1/2 pounds broccoli
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- Pinch of dried chili flakes
- A few good pinches of salt
- 1 cup water
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 to 4 tablespoons grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, optional
To prepare the broccoli, cut the florets into small pieces. Trim the ends off the stems. Peel the stems with a paring knife and thinly slice.
In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the broccoli, garlic, chili flakes and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until the garlic is very fragrant. Add the water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally until the broccoli is very tender and falling apart, about an hour. You may need to add more water if the broccoli starts to dry out. After an hour or so, stir vigorously with a spoon to create the texture of a coarse purée. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the cheese if using. Serve as a bed for grilled fish, shellfish or chicken, as a side dish, mixed with brown rice or pasta, or as a topping for crostini.