You know you've done something right with broccoli when the person you made it for describes it to someone else the next day as "better than biting into a steak."
Those were Craig's words and they were a marked change from the first words he uttered about the broccoli, before he bit in: "You made broccoli for dinner? Broccoli and sweet potatoes?"
Then he did bite in and his eyes lit up. "Oh my God," he said. "This is the best broccoli I've ever had in my life." Later he said: "If parents made this broccoli for their kids, kids wouldn't hate broccoli. They'd beg for it."
So what did I do to the broccoli to make it taste so good?
I can't take any credit. The credit goes to that formidable force in my foodie life; namely, The Barefoot Contessa. From the very beginning, when I used to go to book stores and copy recipes out of her books on little index cards that I kept in my pocket, Ina Garten's recipes have proved to be that perfect combination of simple yet sophisticated; she maximizes flavors in ways that are both ingenious and incredibly replicable. Anyone can do an Ina recipe yet when you taste the finished product, it doesn't taste that way; it tastes like it was made by a pro.
I'm going to have a hard time this week not posting all of the recipes from her new book, Back To Basics. In the past few days alone, I've made her roasted pears with blue cheese and walnuts; her roasted sweet potato wedges (which I wrote about in the previous post); and from her "Parties!" book, her butternut squash soup and her roasted pork loin. As you can tell from these recipe titles, The Barefoot Contessa loves roasting.
Specifically, she loves roasting vegetables at a high temperature until they caramelize. That's the basic premise of most of her vegetable recipes in most of her cookbooks and that's precisely what makes her broccoli recipe the best you've ever had.
Normally, broccoli gets squishy when you cook it. Not this broccoli; it develops an amazing brown crust in spots. Then you toss it with lemon juice, lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese and you're in heaven.
Seriously, this recipe is so easy I can recite it without looking at the book. (Ok, I'm lying, I'm about to open the book just to double check....)
You preheat the oven to 425.
Take 4 to 5 pounds of broccoli (I just got two large bunches), cut into florets (but relatively big ones.) Here's the key that she doesn't mention in the recipe: dry them THOROUGHLY. That is, if you wash them. I saw an episode of Julia Child cooking with Jacques Pepin once when Pepin revealed he doesn't wash a chicken before putting it in a hot oven: "The heat kills all the germs," he said in his French accent. "If bacteria could survive that oven, it deserves to kill me." By that logic, then, I didn't wash my broccoli; I wanted it to get crispy and brown. If you're nervous, though, just wash and dry it obsessively.
Now, it's easy. Put the broccoli on a cookie sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. (She says 5 Tbs olive oil, 1 1/2 tsps kosher salt, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, but I just eyeballed it.) Now add 4 garlic cloves that are peeled and sliced and toss them in too.
Roast in the oven 20 to 25 minutes, until "crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned."
I shook the pan around a bit as it went, but not sure that's necessary.
When it's done, take it out of the oven--and here's where it gets really good--zest a lemon over the broccoli, squeeze the lemon juice over the broccoli, add 1.5 Tbs more olive oil, 3 Tbs toasted pine nuts (I left those out), and 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. She also has you add 2 Tbs julienned fresh basil, but I left that out too.
You won't miss it: the magic combo of the crispy broccoli, the garlic, the lemon and the cheese will make this the best broccoli of your life. I guarantee it; you will go ga-ga over it. I'm so ga-ga over it that I would seriously consider a trip right now to the store just so I could make this for lunch. Broccoli for lunch? After trying this, you'll never want to eat anything else for breakfast, lunch or dinner ever again.