22 October 2012

Eats: Roasted broccoli

I think by now we’re all aware of my love of frozen vegetables, yes?

As much as I love chopping vegetables (no really, I do!), it’s time consuming. When it’s five minutes until dinner is ready and I am just then realizing how... beige our dinner is, it’s nice to be able to throw a bag of steamable veggies in the microwave or boil them for a few minutes on the stovetop.

At any given time in my freezer, you’d almost certainly find a bag each of peas, green beans, corn, peas & carrots blend, and some sort of “Asian medley”. Occasionally there’s some spinach, or lima beans, or sugar snap peas. It’s a garden variety in there!

But the one vegetable that is rarely in the freezer lineup? Broccoli. Not because we don’t like broccoli – we do! I’m just very very picky about it. First of all, they must be florets. Stems are RIGHT OUT. And second, the steamable broccoli-in-a-bag always turns out too limp and slimy for my taste. I guess it’s okay for stirring into pasta, if the pasta in question is boxed macaroni and cheese or jarred alfredo sauce. But whether I’m stirring it in something or trying to eat it as a side, I always regret buying frozen broccoli instead of fresh.

Especially since I learned that you can roast fresh broccoli in a matter of minutes. It is so easy, people, I can’t even claim to call this a recipe. If you have an oven, some olive oil, and some seasoning, you can roast it. Go ahead, chop it up!

But I admit: there is one teensy catch to making it. It needs to be DRY. Totally dry. Drier than dry. When I first read this online (I can’t find the source, I’m sorry!), the expert chef claimed that it’s so important for the broccoli to be dry that you should skip washing it. He claimed the high heat while roasting will kill anything on the broccoli.

Well. I am not an expert chef. But I am a scientist (a real, live scientist!) and I know bacteria and pesticides and I wash my broccoli. If I’m smart, I remember to wash it right when I buy it, wrap it in a paper towel and stick it in the fridge to use the following evening. The fridge dehydrates it a bit, so it’s dry by the next day. If I don’t use it then, I stick it in a plastic bag in the crisper so it doesn’t over-dry and wilt.

Sometimes I’m not smart, and I have to wash it right before I prepare it. Don’t be like me. Be smart.

Whether you washed your broccoli the day before or are unsuccessfully trying to squeeze it dry, toss it with a bit of olive oil and your favorite seasonings. I like salt, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder.

Then just spread it out on a pan and toss it in a preheated oven (or a toaster oven, like I do) set to 450 degrees, for about 10 minutes. Larger pieces may need a bit longer, but not much. It’s best to keep an eye on it – when it starts turning bright green, it’s almost ready!

Now. If you were smart and washed your broccoli in advance so that it was totally dry, you’d get a little bonus with the bright green broccoli. The very tips of the florets get the teeniest bit crispy, so in addition to the nice crisp crunch of the vegetable, you get a nice oven-crispiness as well.

Because my broccoli wasn’t totally dry, it instead started steaming itself instead of crisping. So, as you can see in the photo up there, it got a little limp. Ahh well, way better than frozen broccoli!

I like to prepare broccoli this way to serve as a side dish. Unfortunately, I always underestimate how much we’d like to eat of it, despite knowing full well it shrinks when it roasts. I think Mr. P and I could share an entire head of broccoli as a side dish at one meal. This = WAY too little broccoli for me.

But I personally think this is the best way to prepare broccoli for any use, like topping macaroni and cheese (like I showed you before). That time I remembered to wash the broccoli in advance, so the broccoli was super crispy to contrast with the gooey mac & cheese!

It’s amazing how many vegetables I’ve learned to love just by roasting them. Broccoli and asparagus are favorites around here – maybe Brussels sprouts are next? If you haven’t roasted veggies, give it a try and enjoy!