Broccoli can be a tricky thing to cook properly. Serve it raw or lightly steamed, and it can be too pungent and sulfuric. Cook it too long, and it will resemble a colorless mush. The key for sweet, nutty tasting broccoli is to cook it just long enough to lessen its pungency before the flavor begins to diminish.
The chart above shows broccolis life cycle once cooked. From zero to 15 minutes of gentle cooking, the broccoli will not be fully tender. From 15 to 30 minutes, that is where the traditional “broccoli smell” is created that permeates your entire kitchen and dining room for the evening. After 40 minutes of cooking broccoli, you are past the point of no return—the broccoli is now a gray-green and completely texture less. However, if you cook broccoli gently for 30 to 40 minutes, you have delicious, flavorful broccoli; the strong, cruciferous notes are diminished and the texture is ideal.
The only problem is that half an hour is a long time to be cooking anything on a busy weeknight. To cut down on the cooking time and still retain the same level of flavor in the broccoli, I borrow a trick from Cook’s Illustrated: a small amount of baking soda in the same pan breaks down the broccoli so that it enters the “delicious broccoli” range in about ten minutes.
Once your broccoli is perfectly cooked with garlic and red pepper flakes, place it in the food processor and make it into a pesto with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and ricotta. The resulting pesto is creamy, spicy, and just a little bit sweet. Spread it on garlic-rubbed bruschetta for a quick lunch, or toss it with hot pasta for an easy, vegetable-packed meal that comes together while the pasta water boils. It’s a new take on broccoli that I hope will become part of your weekly dinner rotation.
Broccoli and Ricotta Pesto
Makes about 4 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta or a large bread loaf of bruschetta
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 ½ lbs. broccoli, cut into 1 inch chunks (florets and stalks)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup fresh ricotta
- In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, then add the broccoli, garlic, salt, baking soda, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 10-15 until the broccoli is very tender and looks like your worst vegetable nightmare.
- Transfer the cooked broccoli to the bowl of a food processor and add the lemon juice and pine nuts. Process until very smooth, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, drizzle in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Turn off the processor, scrape down the sides, add the ricotta, and process again until the ricotta is well incorporated. Adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, spread on bruschetta (recipe follows) or toss with al dente pasta (about 1 ½-2 cups of pesto and ½ cup of pasta cooking water per pound of dry pasta).
Makes about 8-10 bruschetta
1, 2 lb. loaf rustic bread, cut into ½ inch slices
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Olive oil, for brushing
- Using a toaster or broiler, toast the bread slices until golden brown. Rub the cut edge of the garlic clove over both sides of each piece of bread, then brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Top with broccoli-ricotta pesto, and drizzle with olive oil.