Genius Recipes

The Internet Says This Will Be the Best Broccoli of Your Life

March 27, 2019

With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off for a few months trying to raise a genius newborn, we’re revisiting the column’s Greatest Hits with brand-new videos—and hearing from a few special surprise guests. Wish her luck! (And keep sending those tips.)

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.”

Shop the Story

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.

Photo by James Ransom

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This is a delicious way to eat broccoli. I prefer to cook it on a small grid cooling/cooking rack though, as it cooks more evenly, has less oil, and browns beautifully. Try the one from live-nimble on Amazon, it has the heaviest wire so it is stronger, lasts longer, and cooks better. AWESOME!!”
— Nancy O.

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.

Photo by James Ransom

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.

Photo by James Ransom

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.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it Kristen's way (and tell her what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Kari Johnson for this one!

Listen & Subscribe

From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

Listen & Subscribe

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pete Mack
    Pete Mack
  • Susie Stern
    Susie Stern
  • Judi
  • Kristin
  • Blork
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Pete M. March 13, 2023
Best broccoli?
0 Start with broccolini.
0.5 continue favorite broccoli recipe as written.
Susie S. March 6, 2023
Peel the stems using a serrated vegetable peeler. Then
cut the stems into rounds and you end up with broccoli clouds. The kids will love eating these little “clouds”, even if they don’t like the flowers.
Judi June 18, 2019
OMG, I made this tonight and we could not believe how delicious it was. Broccoli had taken a sad back seat in our house and this has brought it all the way to the front. No DRIVING the bus. Easy. Delicious. I'm gonna be making this a lot! Hallelujah and THANKS Food 52!
Kristin March 27, 2019
This one really is a broccoli game changer, even if you loved her before. It’s amazing when you’re making dinner and your weeones keep coming back to sneak more of the stuff before dinner! We tend to eat at least half even before we sit down to dinner!
Blork March 27, 2019
This looks brilliant and very easy. But here's a side note: I don't get why people usually oil and season the stuff directly on the sheet pan. It seems so inefficient. I use a large (16" diameter) stainless steel bowl, which lets me toss the broccoli (or whatever I'm using). It gives much better coverage for adding the oil and whatnot. Then just dump onto the sheet pan and off you go. Ditto when it comes out of the oven; put it back in the bowl and toss the cheeze, zest, etc. with the roasted broccoli. Quick and easy and no blank spots. (For reference, think of a chef making steak frites and they way they toss the fries in a large bowl with salt after it comes out of the fryer.)
Rosalind P. March 27, 2019
Absolutely. Oiling and seasoning on the tray is wasteful and cumbersome. Have always done it your way. Great post.
Caroline82 May 3, 2019
I use a giant ziploc bag to mix it up. Poor everything in then shake and toss it around, then pour in the pan. I mix up my salads and dressings this way as well. Coat the bag in a little salad dressing, throw in your greens etc., and mix. I use less dressing that way and my salads are evenly and lighly coated.
CFrance May 30, 2019
I'm with you. I have disregarded this toss-on-the-sheet pan ever since the idea was invented. Putting it in a bowl gives you much more even coverage, plus you can use a spoon instead of your hands.
Rosalind P. March 27, 2019
This is way too casual about using the stalks. They are delicious, full of great nutrition and the idea of throwing them away makes me cringe. So (typically American?? maybe not) wasteful. Just shave the outside with a peeler; the resulting stalk is then more orless square. Slice and use just as you would the florets. They are mild and tender!
Joyce P. March 27, 2019
It would have been nice to speak the directions through the genius part. I think she added Parmesan, zest, and lemon juice.
Bud Z. March 27, 2019
I like to use a carrot peeler to shave broccoli stalks.
Francoise December 20, 2017
Lemon and parmesan seem to bring out the best in each other, especially with green veggies. Adding garlic is like the magic triad. You could do something similar with green beans, or asparagus.
Leslie M. April 4, 2019
the first time I prepared this recipe, I had a bunch of fresh asparagus on hand & used that. It was incredible. Having made it with broccoli since then, I have to say I think the asparagus was better - the lemon (zest + juice) seemed to bring it to life, whereas they didn't go so far enhancing the broccoli. When I roast broccoli, I've had great success using coconut oil + S&P, then shaking on nutritional yeast at the end. It provides better umami flavor than did the parmesan on the broccoli.
Florence L. February 7, 2017
comment section is usually full of "will try it" sort of comments, but I did try this one and attest to it being the best way for me to eat broccoli. Fabulous!!
Nancy O. January 24, 2017
This is a delicious way to eat broccoli. I prefer to cook it on a small grid cooling/cooking rack though, as it cooks more evenly, has less oil, and browns beautifully. Try the one from live-nimble on Amazon, it has the heaviest wire so it is stronger, lasts longer, and cooks better. AWESOME!!
Gail March 28, 2019
Are grids hard to clean?? Mine get little bits stuck all over. Not worth using it.
barbara M. January 22, 2017
Just made this from a different recipe - would have loved to have added lemon, pine nuts, etc. The cheese adds a little saltiness and toasted cheese that to me broadens the flavor. Took me a while to get the gist of roasted vegetables too, and I think it is overdone (the idea that is) but once in a while it works.
Nancy O. January 24, 2017
I have a free ebook, Vegetables 2.0 (easy recipes, healthy diets, simple cooking) that helps you fully realize the potential of roasted vegetables, helps you turn leftovers into 'bonus' veggies...Yum! Definitely not overdone, extremely versatile, and never boring.
fuhsi January 22, 2017
Is there a particularly good substitute for pine nuts? I'm thinking almonds...
piggledy March 28, 2019
I sometimes use sunflower seeds in lieu of pine nuts - one time with the metallic flavored pine nuts a few years back did them in for me!
Carol April 14, 2019
I now use walnuts in place of pine nuts. They work wonderfully in my pesto, too.
PS007 January 22, 2017
The problem is I don't live in the Hamptons so I can't get GOOD olive oil like Ina can.
Karen January 22, 2017
Living in the Hamptons has nothing to do with good olive oil. Ina sources her Olio Santo Olive Oil from Stonehouse in California. You can do it too. They make great olive oils, I buy from them all the time.
Shannon January 22, 2017
And Guiliana Direct Olive Oil sources and sells some of the best anywhere - much from the best Italian wine producers who also grow olives. And they ship nationwide.
Travel January 22, 2017
I think PS007's comment was meant as sarcasm . . .
PS007 January 22, 2017
Omg, thank you Travel!
Pisanella January 23, 2017
Gosh! I live in rural Wales, UK and I can get GOOD olive oil anywhere!
Gail March 28, 2019
Amazon or anywhere online
Karen March 28, 2019
I have tried this recipe three times and personally, Broccoli is one veggie I prefer steamed until bright green and still a bit crisp, then I dip in a mixture of Best Foods Mayo and Dijon mustard. Very yummy.
FrozenFoodie January 22, 2017
I made this recipe for Thanksgiving. I wasn't sure about the flavors, but it really was fabulous, reinforcing the recipe's popularity.
GratedGarlic January 18, 2017
I wish I would have experienced roasted vegetables as a kid. I would of ate my all my vegetables, rather than being forced to eat the "steamed to death" preparation.
Olivia B. January 18, 2017
Roasting (really more like charring) broccoli is relatively new to me—and I'm all about keeping it naked. I have to remember to make way more than I think because I crisp and crunch it to such a point that it shrinks to nearly half the size of raw. And I always want more more more. Since Ina is... INA, I'll try this the next go-round.
Greg O. January 22, 2017
I think you are right. Less is more and a lightly steamed and either dressed or seasoned broccoli is far better than this charred, shriveled concoction. Also, are there are some concerns about charring and the chemicals it creates?
Kathryn V. January 26, 2017
Don't know about broccoli, but news is just out about potatoes and bread. It seems that there is a chemical change in these carbs that is unhealthy.
Veggies a complex carbs and not simple carbs, so I think we can enjoy
amandainmd January 18, 2017
This post was really timely. I have been contemplating what will come after roasting vegetables. Don't get me wrong, I love to toss some broccoli, cauliflower, etc on a pan and be more or less done. But...

Roasting has become a crutch for me. Can you make some predictions about the next wave of cooking vegetables?
melissa January 18, 2017
Fact. I have been making this recipe for years. I've simplified it by roasting the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then sprinkling lemon juice on it before serving. It's still delicious!
VeganWithaYoYo January 18, 2017
So... how big a role does the parmesan play in the flavor? Can I get away with just using the other ingredients to make it vegan, or do I need to figure out something else to add to the flavor profile?
melissa January 18, 2017
maybe nutritional yeast? honestly, i think the recipe is still delicious without the cheese!
Anna D. January 18, 2017
I would use coarse bread crumbs pan fried in olive oil, like you would on pasta.
AntoniaJames January 18, 2017
A much better choice, vegan or not, is Gjelina's recipe for roasting broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, etc. and tossing with garlic confit, fresh parsley and red wine vinegar. The confit is an extra step one does in advance, but the active time is de minimis (3 minutes of active time, if you buy peeled garlic) and well worth the effort.
You'll have a lot left over, for which you'll be happy. Here is a link to that recipe:

"The Internet" didn't know about this when it decided in 2008 that Ina's recipe with parmesan is the "best of your whole life." I'm the last person in the world ever to declare any recipe "the best", much less the best in anyone's lifetime, but I will say that the Gjelina recipe is one you'll want to make frequently, and that everyone who's given it will greedily gobble up. Leftovers make a tasty tartine, especially when you spread your toasted bread with the garlic confit oil.

Also, on the subject of allium confit, you'll want to make some of this: -- essentially the same thing as the Gjelina confit, but with shallots and garlic. I never measure the olive oil, but rather, just pour it on to cover the alliums completely.
I hope this helps. ;o)
Pisanella January 23, 2017
My mouth is watering!