In November 2008, Adam Roberts published a blog post with the headline “The Best Broccoli of Your Life”, about a recipe from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. He promised that at least one person liked the broccoli more than steak.
This post has since become the most popular in the history of his blog The Amateur Gourmet—one of the first food blogs and, until Roberts quieted the blog in 2015, one of the most beloved. “Oh, it was the #1 Google result for 'broccoli recipe' for a while,” Roberts wrote to me. "But since I've stopped blogging, that's not true anymore.”
What was so great about this broccoli? Why did the internet flock to it? For one thing, Roberts was ahead of the curve. Just like those lucky early Facebook (or … Food52?) employees, he blogged about roasted broccoli just as it was trending up. “Caramelizing broccoli was such a foreign concept back then,” he told me.
But by the time I’d been tipped off to the Barefoot broccoli in 2012, we were getting to peak roasted everything, and I brushed the recipe off as probably very good, but not worth writing about now.
In fact, in Food52’s broccoli recipe contest in early 2010, we ended up with a stand-off between two bowls of ... roasted broccoli. At the time, I thought it was awfully unfair to the broccoli soup entries and a surprising number of broccoli pestos, but that’s just how hot roasting was back then. It was roasted broccoli’s world and “Broccoli Lightning” was just living in it.
Fast forward to 2017, and it’s safe to say roasting vegetables isn’t going anywhere. The novelty may have rubbed away, but like any trend with merit, it made itself indispensable—as a way to quickly make just about any vegetable taste like its best, sweetest (not to mention most handsome) self. Anyone who can maneuver a knife and a hot oven can do it.
Flavors concentrate as fibers buckle, water escapes and steams away (if you haven’t crowded the pan, that is—but you know that!), and your broccoli crisps up against the hot air, to turn into “something that almost tastes like a French fry,” as Roberts says.
But in the past decade, now that we roast damn near everything, we’ve started to take it for granted. At least I have. So to lavish a pan of freshly roasted broccoli in not just the same olive oil and salt, but more forceful seasoning, is to taste it anew.
This is where the “Best Broccoli of Your Life” part really happens. Garten gathers up a pile of lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil, and chunky shreds of Parmesan (grated on the big holes) on her cutting board, before tossing it all with the roasted broccoli in the pan. Lemon juice and olive oil pull it all together. Sure you could use a mini grab bag of these ingredients at any given time—but try it this way first, and you will no longer want to.
- 4 pounds broccoli (note: if you like to slice and roast the stalks too, you won’t need to buy quite as much)
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 splash good olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves)
Photos by James Ransom
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Kari Johnson for this one!