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Tips that make broccoli pop

When I was a child, broccoli never made my top 10 list of edible vegetables. It always hovered down at the bottom with the other vegetable horrors of my young life: winter squash (shudder) and Brussels sprouts (double shudder).

After a few token efforts on my part, my parents realized it was futile to turn my dislike of broccoli into a full-blown issue. Instead they kept the fridge well stocked with carrots, tomatoes and fruit, and I grew up just fine without it.

But at the very tail end of my teen years, I was forced to try again.

It was a college cooking course, and the instructor had a real flair with food. Two weeks into the term, she had already added a new dimension to asparagus and stuffed peppers. So when we hit the unit on broccoli, I figured I’d give it a try.

The first thing she had us do was peel a stalk and sample the raw, crisp interior. I couldn’t believe my taste buds. That this delectable, sweet, nutty morsel was any relation to the glob of misery I knew as a child was almost beyond belief.

Next, she had us blanch the peeled stalks and florets in a large pot of rapidly boiling water. We kept the lid off, she explained, so that the volatile gases escaping from the broccoli wouldn’t bounce back down into the pot where they would react with the chlorophyll in the plant. That, she said, is what turns broccoli the yucky yellow-green color all children hate.

Tell me about it.

Again we sampled, and again I was overwhelmed with the flavor and texture. I remember her telling us as I beat out my lab partner for the last emerald green chunk laced with just a hint of lemon/butter sauce that the secret was in the peeling process. Without the tough, fibrous peel, the entire plant cooks evenly, from stem to flowery stern.

These days, such technique is considered de riguer among cooks, but it was a real newsflash back in the early ’70s.

Of course, finding broccoli with its stem intact is becoming somewhat difficult so many markets are selling only the upper portion of florets, but I encourage you to try and find the whole vegetable.

Braised Broccoli with Creamy Parmesan

Serves 4 to 6.

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup milk

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon white wine (or rice vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 head broccoli

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, Parmesan, vinegar, dill and garlic powder. Let stand at least 15 minutes so that the flavors can develop. May be prepared several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.

When ready to serve, peel the broccoli stalk to reveal the juicy and tender inner portion and cut into slices. Cut the head into florets. Melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and stir to coat the pieces. Saute for about 1 minute, then add the water, cover, and simmer another minute or two, just long enough for the florets to barely become tender. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste. Place the broccoli in a shallow bowl to serve. Pass around the Creamy Parmesan dressing.

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan

Serves 4 to 6

3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Add the olive oil; set aside.

Lightly oil a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or a thin film of oil. Place the broccoli in the pan, drizzle with the olive oil mixture, toss to coat the florets with the oil, then spread them out in a shallow, uncrowded layer in the pan.

Roast in the hot oven, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, or until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, toss briefly and scrape them into a serving dish. Serve.

Sesame-Soy-Roasted Broccoli

Serves 4 to 6.

The zesty, toasty components in this roast make it the perfect companion to a steaming bowl of your favorite rice. That alone makes for a somewhat pure and simple meal, so please consider it.

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 head fresh broccoli, with stalk peeled and cut into chunks; head cut into florets

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or a thin film of oil. Whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, chili-garlic paste and the minced garlic. Place the broccoli pieces in the pan and drizzle with the sauce. Toss the vegetables to evenly coat each piece with some of the sauce, then spread them out in a shallow, uncrowded layer.

Roast until the broccoli is well browned, giving the pan a healthy shake now and then for even cooking. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, season the broccoli with freshly ground black pepper and then transfer the rice to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.

Onion Option: For additional depth of flavor, include a peeled and sliced onion, tossing it with the sauce along with the broccoli. The onion will brown and caramelize during the roasting process.

Broccoli Salad with Tangerine Wedges and Sesame-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

There’s a hint of bacon flavor in the dressing (thanks to the toasted sesame seeds), which means it is also delicious in a wide range of salad offerings, especially salads composed of baby spinach and any number of fruits, including pears, oranges and apples.

For The Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor

1/3 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the Salad:

3 cups broccoli florets

1 small red onion, sliced into slender rings (or half rings)

2 seedless tangerines, peeled and divided into segments (or any other orange-style citrus)

1/2 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries

Shredded Parmesan

Place the vinegar, sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until most of the sesame seeds are ground (stop the motor several times and scrape down the sides of the container). Scrape the contents into a small bowl, then whisk in the vegetable oil in a slow, steady stream. Yields 3/4 cup.

To assemble the salad: Place the broccoli, onion, tangerines, raisins and cheese in a salad bowl. Add enough of the dressing to thoroughly moisten the ingredients and toss well. Add additional dressing as needed.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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