One of the last items I had on hand from the farmers market was a generous bunch of broccolini, aka baby broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables. It’s a lot like broccoli, but the stems are thinner and the flowers smaller and more feathery, very tender, almost juicy, with a lot of flavor. For a long time I thought broccolini really was baby broccoli, but it’s not; it’s a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, aka Chinese broccoli. It’s even patented; who knew?
I like broccolini plain as much as I like it gussied up. In fact, last Thanksgiving I chose it as the green vegetable on the menu, served very simply. All I did was blanch it for a couple of minutes, until it was bright and tender. It was welcome with all the more complex dishes on the table, and it went quickly.
The broccolini I got at the farmers market kept well in the crisper of my refrigerator for over a week. I cut off the bottom third of the long stems and saved them to marinate for quick broccoli stem pickles (more about that later), blanched the rest of it for 2 minutes, shocked it in cold water and drained it. Then I chopped it up and cooked it in a little in olive oil with green garlic, because I still had some from the farmers market (regular garlic will do just fine) and pepperoncini. You could serve it this way as a side dish, but what I like to do is toss the sautéed broccolini with pasta, moistening with a ladleful of pasta cooking water and a little more olive oil. I used farfalle but use what you have on hand. A sprinkle of Parmesan and that’s dinner.
About the marinated broccolini stems: Around the time I began my career as a vegetarian cook, I came across a recipe for marinated broccoli stems in a macrobiotic cookbook. I’ve been making them ever since. You peel the stems, slice them, toss them with salt and leave in a jar in the fridge for a day so that they release lots of not so appealing, brassica-scented water. Drain that and then add minced or pressed garlic, a tablespoon of vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Shake the jar and leave for a couple of hours. Makes the most wonderful snack, cocktail food, salad ingredient. You never used to find broccoli crowns without the stems and the stems often went to waste. But not at my house. In the case of broccolini, I peel the long thin stems, and cut into 2- or 3-inch lengths. If they aren’t skinny I cut them in half lengthwise or on the diagonal, and proceed in the same way.
Pasta with Broccolini, Garlic and Pepperoncini
1 generous bunch broccolini (3/4 to 1 pound)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, minced, or 1 or 2 stalks green garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (pepperoncini), to taste
12 ounces pasta (I like farfalle but in these times, use what you have)
Freshly grated Parmesan
1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously, but keep in mind that you will use some of the water to moisten the finished dish, so it shouldn’t be unpalatably salty. Fill a bowl with cold water.
2. Cut away about a third of the broccolini stems and set aside for another purpose, like making pickled broccoli stems (see recipe). Add the rest of the broccolini to the boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove from the water using a skimmer, tongs or slotted spoon and transfer to the bowl of cold water. Drain and drain again on paper towels or a dishtowel. Chop, not too fine.
3. In a wide skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes (pepperoncini) and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to sizzle and smell fragrant. Add the chopped blanched broccolini and salt to taste. Stir together for a minute or two, until the greens are nicely infused with garlic and olive oil. Turn off the heat.
4. Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, stirring every once in a while, until the pasta is cooked al dente, using the timing instructions on the package as a guide but checking the pasta a minute before the time indicated is up. When the pasta is ready, turn on the heat under the pan with the broccolini to reheat if desired, and ladle in 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Ladle another 1/4 cup of the cooking water into a small bowl, in case you want more to moisten the mixture after you’ve tossed the pasta and broccolini mixture together. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the broccolini, or transfer with a spider directly from the pot to the pan with the broccolini. Add a little olive oil and toss together. Add more of the cooking water if desired. Serve hot, with freshly grated Parmesan.
Marinated Broccoli or Broccolini Stems
Stalks from 1 bunch broccoli or broccolini
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, finely minced or pressed
1 tablespoon vinegar – sherry (my preference), red wine or white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Trim away the dry ends of the stems. Peel off the tough outer skin. It comes away easily and I find the best tool to use is a paring knife. If you catch the end of it between the blade and the stem, you can lift it off in strips.
2. Regular broccoli: Slice into thin rounds, about 1/4 inch thick.
Broccolini: but into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Cut in half lengthwise unless very thin.
3. Place stems in a jar and add the salt. Cover the jar and shake well. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
4. Drain off water from the stems. Add the garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Cover and shake well. Marinate for at least an hour before serving. The color will fade after a while but they are good for a few days.