For many years broccoli was simply something I ate steamed as a side serve with other foods. Occasionally I might tart it up a bit by tossing it in a little melted butter and sprinkling it with toasted almonds but essentially it was a green veggie that I didn’t do much with. Don’t get me wrong, I really like broccoli and I especially like the stalk which has a lovely sweetness to it – when I was younger and very very suspicious of vegetables I would only eat the stalk because I didn’t like the texture of the florets in my mouth!
What changed things for me was the discovery of Chinese broccoli (gai larn) several years ago. This vegetable is more stalk and leaf than floret and learning how to stir fry or steam and douse in oyster sauce and garlic led me to explore other broccoli recipes. Over the last couple of years I have come to a much better appreciation of broccoli and am using it more frequently as a star ingredient, and in much larger quantities. Broccoli soup, stir fries, cauliflower and broccoli macaroni cheese, broccoli in a frittata and, more recently, testing out several different takes on a classic pairing of broccoli and orrechiette.
In addition to the broccoli and orrechiette (which seems the perfect partner to broccoli), each of these dishes also have anchovies and garlic as essential flavourings and finish off with a sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino. So it’s been interesting to see how, from this distinctive base of ingredients, so many variations in flavour can be achieved.
The first one I did was my take on this classic combination to which I added some cauliflower, and used some thinly sliced giant purple garlic cloves as a feature of the dish. You can see the recipe here.
The second version was a Stephanie Alexander dish that created a tomatoey sauce sweetened with currants and an added soft crunch from toasted pine-nuts. This dish was a hit with us. Stephanie suggests the anchovies are optional but for my taste they are essential (however leaving them out would make this a vegetarian dish if that’s what you’re after). I would recommend reducing the amount of red wine vinegar to just enough to cover the currants as the vinegar was a bit overpowering (I suspect the intent was that the currants would soak up most of the vinegar but that didn’t happen with the currants I used).
The latest version of the orrechiette and broccoli marriage I made last night was my favourite. This one is from Gourmet Traveller and used lemon zest and juice, red onion and toasted almonds. My tips for this recipe are to reduce the amount of lemon juice to 1 Tbl (it says juice of 1 lemon and it was a bit too lemony), and to use at least the 4 fillets of anchovies even when making the dish for 2 people as I did. I also increased the amount of broccoli (for 2 people I used about 300g instead of 200g).
All three were very flavoursome, used a short list of ingredients and were very quick and easy to cook. This is another mid-week winner and, with the variations, it won’t get tired.