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This week I’m eating: broccoli

I am the patron saint of brassicas.

As you might have gathered, a lot of my time is spent defending the indefensible vegetables. I believe in giving all vegetables a chance, in rescuing them from the over-boiled, under-salted ignominy that so often befalls the stalwarts of crap family dinners.

So this is controversial, but I love broccoli.

When you think about it, life can’t just be made up of unpronounceably exotic vegetables and microherbs; we need to respect our vegetable roots. And broccoli is an old, old vegetable. It’s been around since the Romans and they apparently thought it was great, since it has been cultivated ever since.

As is usually the case, if you don’t like broccoli it’s almost certainly because either you or your designated cooking person are doing it wrong. It’s not actually supposed to be watery mush (unless you intend to puree it and use it as a pizza topping, which I’m getting to). Broccoli should still be firm and have a bit of bite to it when eaten, so follow these simple steps to broccoli greatness.

  1. Don’t ever buy it frozen. When buying fresh broccoli look for heads that have a deep, even green colour. The top bits should be firm and should show absolutely no signs of flowering.
  2. Cut it into little florets, getting rid of the leaves and the hard woody stem parts, but keep enough of the tender stem parts so that your floret still looks like, well, a floret, instead of a decapitated triffid.
  3. Cook your broccoli in boiled, salted water for – quite seriously – about, three minutes. Broccoli is a tender delicate flower and should be treated it as such.
  4. Finally, drain your broccoli immediately it is cooked, and dump it in some ice water to stop it cooking. At the very least run it under the cold water tap for a while, because if it’s still hot it will keep cooking, resulting in aforementioned soggy mush.

It is entirely worth buying this cookbook solely to read what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say about broccoli. This book’s broccoli and chilli salad is transcendental, and it involves chargrilling (it is also very easy).

Broccoli is available from late autumn to spring, but it’ll probably be done by November so get on it quickly. Today I’m giving it to you on pizza.

Broccoli pizza

Sabine Standard pizza dough (makes two thin crust pizzas so, look, just try the broccoli on one and then do whatever you like with the other)

  • 200 ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 7 g yeast sachet
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • olive oil

Broccoli topping:

  • 1 largish head of broccoli
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • few sprigs of parsley
  • 1 buffalo mozzarella ball
  • 1-2 birdseye chillies
  • olive oil
  • squeeze of lemon
  • salt, pepper

Combine the warm water and sugar, sprinkle yeast over and give it a good stir. Leave the mixture to rest for 10 minutes after which time the yeast should be frothing up nicely; now you know it isn’t dead and your pizza dough won’t be an exercise in futility.

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well and pour the yeast mix in; add a slug of olive oil for good measure. Mix it together with your hands until you’ve got a soft dough. Please don’t come crying to me that your dough didn’t work; I always suggest 100 ml for every cup of flour, but flour and water can be surprisingly temperamental and influenced by things like humidity and what not. You’re a capable person, so identify whether it’s too slushy or too dry and add more flour or water accordingly.

Knead the pizza dough for at least 10 minutes or as long as you can stand. And not just little dabs either – really brutalise that gluten. If it starts sticking to the bench add flour. Form it into a ball, brush it with olive oil, and leave it in a bowl under a damp tea towel until it’s doubled in size. At this point, if you have some time on your hands, you can knock it back, knead it a bit more, and let it rise again. Ideally this will happen over a process of a few hours. I’ve been known to make it in the morning, go to work, and come home to pizza dough. Make sure the tea towel is nice and damp if you do this as you don’t want the dough forming a crust.

While that’s happening, preheat the oven to 230 C. Cook the broccoli by the method outlined in point 3 above. Chop your small garlic clove and parsley (I stress, not a lot, we don’t want the whole thing tasting like parsley), and blend with the broccoli in a food processor or go at it with a stick blender.

Roll out your pizza dough (I like it thin) and brush with olive oil. Dollop on the broccoli puree and smear it around with the back of a spoon to give it that artful artisan look. Slice the buffalo mozzarella and arrange the slices on top; slice the chilli and scatter on top. Finally, drizzle the pizza with olive oil, give it a squeeze of lemon, and sprinkle over some salt flakes and some black pepper. Not too much.

Put your pizza into the oven and then watch it like a hawk, because its cooking time will depend on the quality of your oven and the thickness of your crust. It’s done when the buffalo mozzarella is melted and everything is looking pleasantly golden. It’s overdone when your crust looks like carbon.

Eat hot with a beer.


Image by Coolthinker via Creative Commons Licence

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