Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crispy Roasted Broccoli

I get really, really excited about simple side dishes. The kind of thing where the ingredient list is so short you can keep it in your head, the finished dish appears to be the simplest offering in history, yet the flavor and the texture combine in a sort of complex purity that mean leftovers would be a sacrilege.

Leftovers, of course, being the holy grail of mothers of young children, one of whom is being home schooled and likes for his mother to sit and read to him for lo, the many hours of the day.

Leftovers also being a sort of scourge to the work-at-home mother of young children who achieves a kind of zen-like calm during the brief, but oddly fulfilling, time spent fine-tuning flavors and tweaking textures in the kitchen at that beautiful midpoint in the day when the learning hours are past and a dark winter evening in a warm house stretches ahead.

Either way, or (sigh) both ways in this case, we never have leftovers when I make this lovely, crazy-easy, highly addictive roasted broccoli recipe. Last time, as a matter of fact, I doubled the recipe, sure that I would finally push the limits of our broccoli consumption, but still I caught The Carnivore pilfering the last few, by then slightly limp and completely cold, pieces out of the pan while I cleaned up the dishes after dinner.

We've fairly gone bonkers for this recipe, if I'm completely honest about it. I clipped it from an issue of Bon Appetit a while back, suspicious of it's simplicity, yet intrigued by the word 'addictive' in the headnote, and further captivated by the placement of the recipe in the magazine. I have long been a sucker for food columns in which readers request favorite restaurant recipes, and this was one of those. We have rarely been steered wrong by these sorts of recipes, and some of our longest-running family menu ideas have come from the same. And in this case, I mean really, if it is a simple broccoli side dish that has someone writing to a national magazine for help obtaining the recipe, well, I would be a little foolish to just turn the page and go on with my life, yes?

I had never roasted broccoli before encountering this recipe, instead generally steaming it and tossing it with a little butter and Parmesan, but our little family had recently fallen hard for a few roasted cauliflower dishes and were thusly prepped for the possibility of love in this instance as well. Of course, I have also turned my nose up at countless roasted winter veggie combinations that resulted in soggy textures and muddled flavors, so I came into this armed with prejudice and a grain of salt.

One just never knows. (Which is why I hope to someday learn to stop attempting new recipes when company is coming over for dinner. It would be nice to not have to stifle my horror the next time a cake refuses to be turned out of it's pan, or a candy seizes up, or a bread fails to rise).

This would have been a fine night for a dinner party though, as I'm sure you can imagine by the careless way I keep throwing around declarations of love and undying devotion.

The broccoli stems become tender as they roast, but just tender enough, if you know what I mean. Not soft. Not mushy. But the real beauty is at the edges of the florets, which crisp up as they begin to brown, lending every bite an irresistible crispy texture. The red pepper flakes are an added stroke of genius and are crucial to the recipe. Don't be afraid of their heat. The broccoli florets won't be overly spicy, and the finished dish would be one-dimensional in flavor without the oomph brought by the seasoning.

This is one of those dishes that goes with practically everything, is so easy to prepare that timing is never an issue, and, honest to everything, hand on a Bible, cannot be screwed up. In the countless times I have served this broccoli, I have made nearly every little mistake possible: I've pulled it out of the oven a minute or two too early, left it in a little too long, scrimped on the garlic and the red pepper flakes, and later overdosed on the same, but each and every time, we've loved and adored it.

And fought over the last few pieces. Of course.


ROASTED BROCCOLI WITH GARLIC & RED PEPPER (serves 2 to 4 as a side dish, from Black Bottle Seattle, and printed in Bon Appetit)
  • 1 1/4 pounds fresh broccoli crowns, cut into florets (to a kind of largish bite-size)
  • 3 1/2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Large pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss broccoli with 3 Tbs olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  2. Roast for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.
  3. In the meantime, stir together the remaining 1/2 Tbs olive oil, garlic and red pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Remove broccoli from the oven, and drizzle the garlic mixture over the broccoli, tossing to coat. Return to oven and roast for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until broccoli is beginning to brown and has crisped up on the edges of the florets.
  5. Season to taste with additional salt & pepper.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spicy Green Cabbage

Oh, I know, really I know. Cabbage is never going to be sexy, and no one is going to read this and think, "I must go pick up some green cabbage right this minute and run home to make this recipe immediately."

I know.

But, see, I love cabbage. I mean really, truly, love and adore, pledge-my-undying-devotion-at-the-altar, LOVE cabbage. It could be the Southern girl in me, or the vegetarian - I'll never know, I guess, but I'm okay with that, because even if I am alone in this devotion, I will still have cabbage by my side.

I have only had fresh-from-the-farm cabbage a handful of times, and each time has been a sort of Very Important Moment, you know, where angels sing and a light beams down from above. If I could get it weekly from the co-op, I would, but I've only seen it listed on their website one time, and only twice in three years have I received it in my weekly box from the CSA. Honestly I'm tempted to try and grow it myself. Most of the time though, I pick up a heavy, firm head of it from the supermarket.

I've even been known to buy cabbage from a certain giant box store. I feel like such a junkie...

I have come to an uneasy truce with my desire to buy locally by finally settling for doing my best. If something is available locally, at any time of the year, then, with very few exceptions, I will only buy it locally and in season. The Carnivore scarcely notices, and The Boy Wonder has learned about seasons, about climates for growing produce, and about geography from our endless discussions about seasonal produce. I'm so tickled with the little fellow when he sighs wisely while in the supermarket and says, in his best world-weary voice, "I sure would like some blueberries right now, but they just never taste the same when they aren't fresh-picked in the heat of the summer. I guess we'll just wait, right Mama?"

I love him. More than cabbage, even.

Cabbage is one of our supermarket exceptions. Since I am virtually unable to source it locally, then I bend the rule and buy it from the store with the following caveats: that it be purchased only during it's local growing season, and it be grown within the United States. I would prefer to only buy it from our region, but since the produce labeling laws only require the country of origin, then I (again) just do my best.

See, this way I'm only being a little neurotic. 'Tis a vast improvement over some of my stricter OCD proclivities. Ask Beth if you don't believe me. She recently saw me lay a damp and dingy dishtowel over my head while I delineated some of my stressors regarding the simultaneous weighing of the environmental and financial conundrums of purchases.

I can live with 'a little neurotic.'

What I'm trying to say is it is cabbage season right now, and my nearest grocery store had some of the most beautiful heavy heads of green cabbage last week, listed as being from the next state over, and on sale no less. So I bought a few heads. Gleefully.

The Carnivore and I are both head-over-heels in love with the Braised Green Cabbage recipe that I have been using for the past few years, with it's luscious, velvety texture and rich, complex flavor. The only drawback is the 2 1/2 hours of cooking time involved. And since our days of late have been filled with learning activities and crafting and spur-of-the-moment times of drop-everything-and-go-do-something-fun, it is a rare day indeed that I remember to start dinner exactly 2 1/2 hours before we need to eat.

Hence the recent post about The Art of Simple Food. With the flexibility in our homeschooling and homeworking life comes a new flexibility in the way we eat. So last week, when it was suddenly past 4 o'clock, and I knew we would need to be sitting and eating within an hour in order for our busy evening to run as smoothly as possible, I flung open the fridge and surveyed my last minute options.

There was a fridge drawer chock full of cabbage, a few big knobs of sunchokes, some leftover blue cheese & wild rice frittata from the night before, and a few pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes in the pantry. I could serve the leftover frittata with Sunchoke & Potato Mash, but would need something a little crunchy to go with those softer textures, so really, the Braised Cabbage would have been a lousy choice even if I had, ahem, started it in time.

I had just the perfect recipe to try though, from Vegan Soul Kitchen, another cookbook I had lusted over for months before finding a used copy online. In it was an intriguing sounding, and easy looking, quick recipe for Spicy Smothered Green Cabbage. It sounded ideal for the purposes of this dinner, with hardly three minutes of prep time, a few strong-flavored spices to add some depth of flavor, and a short enough cooking time that the cabbage would almost certainly retain just the right amount of it's crunchy texture.

I'm telling you, if I thought I loved cabbage before this recipe, I love it even more now. This dish was so incredibly lovely, nicely flavored but versatile enough that it won't compete with whatever main dish it is paired with, idiot-proof in it's ease of prep and cooking, and ready in a flash. Simple does not mean bland, you see.

I upped the red pepper flakes a little, to add some additional heat (it wasn't quite spicy enough to merit using the word 'spicy' in it's title, I felt) and I added a little vinegar to brighten the flavor somewhat; you could tinker around with this as you see fit. The artistry of this recipe is in it's simplicity.

The final dish is a bit like a warm slaw, and is delicious on it's own, served alongside potatoes and frittata in this case, but would also do wonders as a bed for a pan-fried fish. Actually, I had thought about using the leftovers as a kind of fresher, livelier sort of sauerkraut atop tofu dogs, but I ended up eating it straight out it's container the next day for a very late breakfast.

'Twas THAT good.


SPICY GREEN CABBAGE (serves 4 or more, adapted from Vegan Soul Cooking)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp raw cane sugar (or other less-processed sugar)
  • Coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
  • 1 green cabbage (about 2 lbs) quartered, cored, and sliced relatively thinly
  • 5 Tbs water
  • Coarsely ground black pepper, or ground white pepper
  • Rice wine vinegar (or other mild white vinegar), to taste
  1. In a wide, fairly deep, heavy pan, like a Dutch oven, add the olive oil, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, sugar, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mustard seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes.
  2. Quickly add the cabbage, and stir to coat with oil. Cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, until cabbage is a bit wilted.
  3. Add the water, stir again, cover, and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. The cabbage is ready at this time, but can be cooked on low heat for an additional 5-15 minutes to achieve a softer texture if you wish.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar to taste.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Art of Simple Food

We periodically go through shifts in our way of living, and a seismic occurrence seems to be going on right now. It was the addition of homeschooling to our schedule that cemented this new shift, I believe. Well, that and learning how to knit, if you can imagine.

Regardless, we are currently mid-shift and it is affecting the way we eat.

Gone for now are the afternoons in which I can tinker around in the kitchen for a few hours, putting together complicated meals. Gone also are the countless other hours spent poring over cookbooks and food magazines, planning meals and shopping lists, and cleaning up a wrecked kitchen at the end of the day.

Instead, some of that former free time is being redirected into other pursuits that are becoming very important to our funny little family.

Archaeology training, for instance, takes precedence as a new daily priority.

There are tepees to make and science projects to root.

And we have frozen birdbaths to inspect (while wearing bathrobes and snow boots).

The Art of Simple Food has been my bedtime reading for the past week or so - such fortuitous timing, and while there isn't a lot of new ground in the way of recipes in this gorgeous book, it is her notes and explanations and, well, her guiding principles that I treasured as I read. If you are at all familiar with Alice Waters, then you already know why her cooking guidelines would be so endearing, and for those who might not have already been exposed to her quiet sermons on food and place, I could not possibly recommend this book enough as an introduction to her way of thinking about eating.

I cannot get enough of her, obviously, and have coveted this book since it was released. I finally splurged with some birthday money and read it slowly, cover to cover, even the sections on cooking meat, which I suppose means I may have slightly lost my mind (though I do not intend to actually eat any of those dishes, of course). The lovely book now sits proudly on the menu desk next to a few of the other Chez Panisse cookbooks that I have collected over the years. I turn to these often for inspiration these days, especially there close to dinnertime when I realize yet another day just sped by in a whirlwind of reading and snuggling and creating and learning and exploring with my young teachers.

As our schedule evolves, so do our meals, and I am a bit invigorated by the change and the challenge of seeing things anew. There have been a few duds (well, okay, more than a few) in the recent new, more streamlined, recipes that I have tried, but there have also been some make-you-smile-with-each-bite winners as well, and I cannot wait to share them here.

Of course, I'll need to squeeze in the time to do that...