Food & Drink

Versatile vegetable: Broccoli five ways

Emma Christensen

Allow me to present the humble broccoli – beloved steamed side dish with lemon and butter, faithful team player to quick stir-fries, virtuous add-in to a number of cheesy pasta dishes. Broccoli is the vegetable we reach for when we need a little something extra to round out a meal. Here’s how to find a good broccoli bunch, along with five ways to cook it up.

Choose broccoli that has a uniform green color with no major brown or yellowing spots. Really fresh broccoli has a purple-ish cast to the top of the crown. The broccoli stem should feel firm, and the crown should be tight and springy; soft stems or limp florets are a sign of old broccoli. Store in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator up to a week.

Broccoli can be eaten raw, but blanching it quickly in boiling water gives it a more crisp-tender texture and brings out its flavor. Broccoli can also be steamed, sauteed and roasted. You could even throw long spears on the grill.

Start with one or more heads of broccoli.

1. Trim off the florets: Slice straight through the broccoli stem as close to the crown as you can get. The crown should break into several large florets. Cut through the “trunk” of each floret to make bite-sized pieces. Place these in a small bowl and wash them to get rid of any grit.

2. Trim and slice the stem: The main stem of the broccoli is edible. Trim off any leaves or blemishes. Remove the tougher top layer of skin with a peeler if you like, but it’s not necessary. Slice off the bottom inch of the stem and discard (it’s usually dry). Slice the remaining stem into disks. Stems take longer than florets to cook.

Cooking Method No. 1: Blanching

Prepare a bowl of ice water and have it next to the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of salt. Add the broccoli florets and cook until crisp-tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately in the ice water. Let the water come back to a boil, then cook the stems until they are also crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. If you like softer vegetables, cook for 30 seconds longer.

Uses for blanched broccoli: vegetable platters, cold salads, frittatas and casseroles.

Cooking Method No. 2: Steaming in the microwave

Place the broccoli florets and stems in a microwave-safe dish and pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of water over top. Cover with a dinner plate and microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the lid carefully and check if the broccoli is tender. Microwave in additional 1-minute bursts if necessary.

Uses for steamed broccoli: side dish with olive oil and seasonings, warm salads, frittatas, casseroles and soups.

Cooking Method No. 3: Steaming on the stove

Fill a pot with a few inches of water and insert a steamer basket over top. Be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Put the broccoli stems on the bottom and top with the florets. Cover and steam for 4 to 5 minutes, until tender.

Uses for steamed broccoli: side dish with olive oil and seasonings, warm salads, frittatas, casseroles and soups.

Cooking Method No. 4: Sauteing

Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Film a skillet with oil and set over high to medium-high heat. Add the stems and a big pinch of salt. Toss to coat with oil. Add the florets 1 minute later. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and tender.

Uses for sauteed broccoli: vegetable sautes and as a side dish with seasonings.

Cooking Method No. 5: Roasting

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Toss the florets and stems with a few teaspoons of oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the broccoli is crunchy and you can see deep caramelized brown spots. Serve immediately.

Uses for roasted broccoli: side dish, cold or warm salads, pizza topping (under-roast slightly so the broccoli doesn’t burn on the pizza).