Growing up, there weren't many rules when it came to dinner. All three of us kids had to sit down and eat the prescribed meal, but in terms of what that meal consisted of, my busy parents had a bare-bones schematic: some protein, some starch, and something green. That something green was normally asparagus, green beans, spinach, zucchini, or, on lucky nights, broccoli. All had been steamed to the point of no return in the microwave and were free of salt, spice, fat, and flavor. (Let it be known that my mom has been seen munching on undressed, uncut Romaine in times of particular green scarcity.)
So whether it was an act of rebellion or a sign of the times (I was learning to cook when roasting was just becoming the rage), I turned to my oven—not to the microwave—as the avenue to my "something green" as soon as I got a kitchen of my own.
In the past five years, I've made and eaten a ghastly quantity of roasted broccoli (with Parmesan, lemon, and pine nuts, with garlic and tahini, with nacho toppings). But after so much time over-salting, over-oiling, and over-heating to the point of near incineration, I miss the springy simplicity of steamed broccoli.
It's sweeter and more purely vegetal than its roasted counterparts, with a structure that merits some chewing. I'll go out on a limb and call steamed broccoli refreshing. Now, my version isn't as austere as my parents': I'm careful not to over-steam—I aim for bright-green and far from mushy—and I love to toss it with an assertive dressing. Because the florets are full and open, rather than shriveled and singed, each one is like a little sponge, ready to absorb anything you drizzle or dip. And without the distraction of any rich caramelization (those are words I never thought I'd write!), steamed broccoli is an ideal vehicle for any sauce that's good enough to drink.
Let's hear it for steamed broccoli! But raw broccoli, both squeaky and hairy? It'll take me a long while before I'm ever singing its praises.
A few steamed broccoli pointers:
- Cut your broccoli into even-sized florets so that all of the pieces cook at the same rate.
- For crisp-tender broccoli that still has a firm core, start with 4 to 6 minutes of steaming. For cooked-through florets, the time might be closer to 8 (or even 10) minutes. (If you do overcook the broccoli, you can always turn it into soup or broccoli cooked forever, since you're already halfway there.)
- When deciding how to dress your broccoli, it's nice to add some crunch (like toasted nuts or olive oil-fried panko), punch (from capers, anchovies, lemon juice, or vinegar), and sweetness (from raisins or currants or even chopped dates). I like Joshua McFadden's Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette from his book Six Seasons because it achieves all three in one dressing.
Dress to impress:
Are you a roasted or steamed broccoli person? Make your case in the comments below.
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