If you’re fairly young and grew up in a health-conscious household, chances are you were spoon-fed broccoli from an early age. I grew up in seventies and this extremely popular vegetable was still very underrated and definitely under consumed in those days.
But the truth is, broccoli is not just any old vegetable…it’s a bona fide superfood with a myriad of health benefits and there’s are only 22 calories in 100g of the stuff!
Like cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli is a brassica and is sometimes known by its Italian name, calebrese. It’s a good source of fibre and protein, and contains iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as loads of vitamins and folic acid.
In the kitchen, this superfood is now a true superstar and combines so well with so many different types of foods. Broccoli has a fine, slightly spicy taste, which is particularly good with lemon and butter. You can eat it raw or cooked in salads.
The deep green of cooked broccoli and the emphatic flavour make it the perfect accompaniment for meat and fish, in a risotto or as part of a stir-fry with Asian spices. But I love to pair broccoli with something punchy, formidable and umami-rich, such as soy sauce, anchovy, bacon and mushrooms. The rich saltiness combines brilliantly with the earthy, bittersweet broccoli.
Blue cheese is another great flavour combination along with garlic, spices, chilli and the nutty tones of walnut, peanut and almond that can all match the wild spirit of broccoli and help show it off in all its glory. Broccoli soup is a classic dish: chopped onion is sautéed in butter; chopped broccoli and potatoes are added and simmered in vegetable bouillon until soft. Puree and then finish the soup with a dash of cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and some lemon juice.
Broccoli stalks are often discarded along with the peelings and roots, but every now and again, those odds and ends become an ingredient in their own right, tastier even than the conventional prized part of the vegetable.
At our restaurant we sometimes serve a slow cooked broccoli stalk, as part of our vegetarian tasting menu and it’s a stunning dish.
The stem has a wonderful texture both raw and cooked and in this week’s simple, cheesy gratin, they’re also actually the real stars of the show.
BROCCOLI CHEESE GRATIN
This is such a simple dish that can also be served as a side dish for grilled meat or fish.
- 900g broccoli (about 4 heads), cut into florets
- 55g unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
- 1tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 475ml whole milk
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 100g grated strong Cheddar
- 30g freshly grated parmesan
- 4 egg yolks
Bring the milk to the boil with the bay leaf and the grated nutmeg.
Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 2 minutes before straining. Then melt the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook over a low heat for 1-2 minutes.
When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk. Stir until smooth, and then add more milk until the sauce is thickened.
Add the cheddar cheese cook for 10 minutes, whisking regularly until you have a smooth, thick béchamel sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and the egg yolks, season with salt and black pepper.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add the broccoli and a little salt. Cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the broccoli to a lightly greased baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 230C/Gas Mark 8.
Pour the sauce over the broccoli and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and another pinch of nutmeg. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.