Brooklyn-based author Alison Roman might be best known in Australia for her chocolate chunk shortbread cookies, a recipe developed for her bestselling cookbook Dining In that quickly became an online sensation. The cult cookies spurred coverage in publications such as the New York Times and Bon Appètit, both of which Roman contributes to regularly. The author has also written for David Chang’s Lucky Peach, and worked as pastry chef at Chang’s Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.
This is an edited extract from Roman’s latest cookbook, Nothing Fancy, a collection of all-new recipes that aim to turn high-stress, high-prep “entertaining” into simply “having people over”.
Steamed broccoli is awesome. There you have it. Now, let me take up an entire page telling you why.
Finding a vegetable that is as good blanched or steamed as it is roasted or grilled is a true miracle, and something that should be celebrated. Broccoli and all its affiliates – broccoli rabe (rapini), baby broccoli, broccolini – manage to shine in nearly all applications. But I can say with total honesty that on many occasions, especially when it relates to a table full of food, I prefer it blanched or steamed – even more so when it gets assaulted with an insane amount of lemon juice, drizzled with a good amount of olive oil and sprinkled with crunchy, flaky sea salt.
It doesn’t need much more than that. In fact, resist the urge to sprinkle with cheese or drag through a pool of sour cream. Both of those would be very good, obviously, but the beauty here is in picking up an assertively lemoned neon-green stalk and popping it all into your mouth in between bites of cheesy pasta or brothy, braised meat.
It’s the palate cleanser (made of broccoli) you never knew you needed, until now.
When it comes to blanching or steaming, which route I’ll take largely depends on what else I’m doing. For example, if I’m making pasta that night, I’ll blanch the broccoli in the pasta water before I add my pasta (sure, the water turns a little green, but my pasta doesn’t seem to care – just make sure the water is plenty salted!). If I’m braising something in the oven, while I wait I’ll set up a little steam situation on top of the stove. Both are great.
For four to six people, cook about 500 grams of the vegetable in a pot of salted boiling water until it’s bright green and just tender – 30 seconds or so for broccoli rabe (rapini), which is also great here; 60 seconds or so for baby broccoli; and closer to 90 seconds for spears cut from a head of broccoli.
Fill a large, wide pot with about four centimetres of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot, add the broccoli or broccoli rabe and season with salt. Steam the vegies until bright green and just tender – 60 seconds or so for broccoli rabe; 2 minutes or so for baby broccoli; and closer to 4 minutes for spears cut from a head of broccoli.
The key to making this dish truly excellent is to really douse the broccoli in lemon once it’s cooked. Do not hold back. It should be bracingly acidic – so much so that when you serve it to your friends, they might say, “Wow, that is SO lemony,” and then find themselves unable to stop eating it. From there, sprinkle with flaky sea salt, a scattering of fresh herbs if you like, maybe a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of chilli flakes.
This is an edited extract from Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman, published by Hardie Grant. The book retails for $45 and is available in all good book stores and online.