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

January 18, 2017

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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!

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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.
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!!
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.<br />
fuhsi January 22, 2017
Is there a particularly good substitute for pine nuts? I'm thinking almonds...
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!
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.
Ann M. 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.<br />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...<br /><br />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. <br />You'll have a lot left over, for which you'll be happy. Here is a link to that recipe: <br /><br />"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. <br /><br />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. <br />I hope this helps. ;o)
Pisanella January 23, 2017
My mouth is watering!<br />
witloof January 18, 2017
I confess I don't like the texture of roasted broccoli. It's always simultaneously chewy and burned. I sometimes add a couple of tablespoons of water to the roasting pan so it will steam before it crisps up, but I always feel like the kid in the New Yorker cartoon who tells his mother "I say it's broccoli and I say to hell with it!"
CFrance January 22, 2017
Thank you! I agree. Somebody came up with the idea of calling burned vegetables "caramelized," and a new trend was born. The problem is, it just tastes like a burned vegetable to me. I like my vegetables to taste like their individual selves--not to taste charred.
cookinalong January 22, 2017
How hot is your oven? If it's too hot, then it just gets burnt on the outside and the inside stays semi-raw, especially denser foods like carrots. In my experience, roasting at no more than 400 & placing the pan on the middle rack is the key to good results. Ideally, roasting concentrates flavors by driving off some of the moisture in the food. You may still find you prefer the texture of steamed vegetables, but proper roasting shouldn't result in a charred lump.
CFrance January 22, 2017
No, cookinalong, it's not that. I don't get a "charred lump." It's any taste of "browned" that's offensive to me. One of Bon Appetit's roasted Brussels sprouts versions was the absolute worst. A lot of work for a terrible taste. And I love Brussels sprouts. I'm afraid I just can't joined the roasted veggie crowd. The only ones that taste good to me are green beans and asparagus--but not with any kind of char or even brown on it. I have to side with Greg Olsen and Olivia Bloom--lightly steamed and maybe dressed with something. Although I keep trying. Maybe this recipe will change my mind.
greg T. March 9, 2017
400 and middle works for me too
Connor B. January 18, 2017
Can confirm, this is my go-to broccoli recipe.