Friday, February 28, 2014

Roy Finamore's Broccoli Cooked Forever

I used to think there was no excuse for overcooked vegetables. I used to think I was above all that. We all need humbling.

Try not to be too shocked if you, also, are late to this vegetables cooked forever revolution. It takes a little heart softening at first to open the mind. But all it takes beyond that is enough time to put a pot on the hob, plus the two hours to cook it right. With one taste the synapses make their merry way without so much as a twitch. The brain broadens, and we sit, eating, transfixed.

So go slow. Walk into the oddity. This is all a part of the turn.

It was Eden that pushed this issue. Before she was born I rarely, if ever, overcooked my vegetables. I might have a history of overcooked meat, but I have worked through that conflict. Now I cook meat long and slow in a sauce or broth or water. And if I don't braise, and if I am cooking a cut that needs a little care, I pay attention. I don't take meat success for granted.

But vegetables! What have we come to? My attention is bifurcated. My attention is more than bifurcated. What happens if I am shushing Cedar and answering the phone and baking the chicken and steaming the broccoli and keeping Eden from eating the ashes while trying to itch my ankle? Really. The broccoli is forgotten. It cooks to mush. It gets so unconsciously neglected, so over-flavored with broccoli nastiness that no amount of mayonnaise or lemon juice or mustard on toast will save it. And that is on a good day.

But I've been getting these little insights. Over the past year, in fact, I have stumbled upon the same concept that saves my meat time and again. I've met the idea in odd places. My poet friend suggested it. Molly and Matthew talked about it. Even I hinted at the thought, even though I didn't quite get it yet.

The insight is simple: Give in to the problem, and press beyond it. Let it lead you down into the dark.

This is hard to do. When I poke at the meat and it's cooked through but tough and grey as an rhino's behind, it seems like I should just stop while I am ahead and not waste anymore time hoping things will get better. I should turn off the oven. I should order Thai.

But no. Lean into it. Follow it down until there is nothing left. Or, until there is some kind of magic. Metamorphosis. Enlightenment. Alchemy.  The collagen breaks down. The meat loosens up. And the broccoli - the subject at hand - it goes from a pitiful state of lifelessness to a sort of afterlife. But we aren't talking angels with harps in heaven.  This is not some Sunday school felt board lesson. This is Death Beyond - a new heaven and a new earth, transformed, with broccoli for dinner.

Apparently struggle and conflict does lead to a higher plane of life. Praise all that is green and growing--I no longer have to roast every other vegetable in winter to make it taste right.

And so one more word of encouragement for the uninitiated: This is not overcooked broccoli. This recipe instructs the cook to lovingly neglect the vegetable in an atmosphere of warmth and fragrance so that it may soften at a slow, meditative pace. This is a lesson in life. Sure, the florets lose all that is visually bright and exuberant. They lose their structure, shape, and stun.  They become more or less bald and humdrum. But their complexity! Their simplicity! Their texture and taste! Oh - their character and ability to sooth and smooth and comfort! What they become is nothing short of eternal beauty. Beauty bent. This is broccoli essence. This is why I cook.

Broccoli Cooked Forever

Adapted from Roy Finamore's Broccoli Cooked Forever from Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day, talked about on Food52 via Clotilde's (fabulous) Parents Who Cook series.

I am sure Roy's recipe is perfect as-is, but I was lazy and misread the recipe--twice. His called for two times the amount of broccoli, and though I can see how that ratio of broccoli to oil would be slightly less scandalous, it was an incredible kind of scandal. I also left out the chiles for my sensitive son's palate. For those in a similar kerfuffle, add a spicy sauce table-side such as harissa or sriracha, if you like.

And a few notes on recipe reasoning. 1) Blanching the broccoli ensures it has the moisture content to keep from crisping when it is first tucked into its oil bath. 2) Stringy stems won't get any softer; they get worse. Peel and trim accordingly. 3) The anchovies: they melt. They lend a depth of umami essential to the broccoli's success. Try it. 4) And, do try it with cauliflower too (thanks for the reminder Debbie!).

1-1 1/2 pounds broccoli
1 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillets
2 small hot peppers such as Thai peppers, jalapeno, red chiles, your call (optional)
salt (and pepper) to taste

Bring a big pot of water to boil. While you are waiting, prepare the broccoli: peel the stalks and cut florets into like-sized pieces. Slice the garlic thin and mince the anchovies while you're at it and set aside.  Blanch the broccoli for about five minutes. Strain.

Pour the olive oil into a wide pan (such as an enameled pot with a lid) and add the sliced garlic. Turn the burner to medium. When the garlic starts to sizzle add the anchovies and hot peppers, if using. Stir here and there for a minute or two. Slip the broccoli into the oil, season well with salt and pepper--I added almost a teaspoon, add slowly though if you are timid a four-finger pinch at a time. Put a lid on it, and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting for two hours. Stir very carefully with a spatula every half hour or so.

(I chickened out and cooked it for only an hour and a half the first time. It's better at two hours. For research, consider testing the broccoli every half hour like I did. Knowing a thing along the span of its existence leads to understanding and wisdom. Even with broccoli.)

The broccoli tastes delightful hot or at room temperature, spooned over pasta (like we did the first time) or rice cakes (like we did the second time), good grainy toast, baked potatoes, pizza, open face sandwiches, or dinner crepes. But I had quite a time with it refrigerator-cold, straight from the dish. However you serve it, enjoy!

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