My sister, Mary Pat, is a great cook and an even better baker. Sweets are her thing but as the mother of three active boys, dinner always comes first—chronologically speaking!
One recent night, I had dinner at her house. When I asked if there was anything that I could do to help, she replied that it was all done. When I arrived, the house smelled divine as the Chicken Marbella was already in the oven.
We enjoyed a glass of wine as she cleaned and trimmed some broccoli, apologizing for making it because it is well known in my family that I am not a fan of broccoli, but everyone else loves it. I answered that it was OK, it would give me even more room for her raspberry-topped Tres Leche Cake that was resting in the refrigerator. When I think about eating a well-balanced meal, I have long wanted to like broccoli, but spinach always trumped broccoli—at least up until now.
As we sat down, Mary Pat brought the steaming broccoli dish to the table. It actually looked promising. Bright green florets with a dusting of Parmesan cheese and the rich smell of roasted garlic. I had to try it. It was really good. I ate every piece and had a second helping. And, the next morning, I was still thinking about the broccoli.
My sister adapted the recipe from a popular pasta that her Italian friend Roberto Broglia, owner of the legendary but now closed restaurant Pasta Mia in Washington D.C., made.
Mary Pat remembered that he blanched the broccoli florets, tossed them with a generous amount of garlic olive oil and caramelized garlic cloves. He added the garlicky vegetable to al dente pasta and finished it with lots of real Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of red-pepper flakes.
As my sister started cooking for her family, she looked for new ways to make broccoli that was both healthy and delicious. She remembered the broccoli pasta and started making it sans pasta, and the rest is history. Now, I have broccoli on my home rotation. Will wonders never cease?
MY SISTER’S BROCCOLI
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1 head of broccoli
1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves
1/2-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Pinch of red-pepper flakes, optional
Trim the broccoli and cut off the florets. I like to cut them in the natural clumps that you can see, but you can also slice the florets down the middle of the “trunk” and cut the florets in half or in quarters if they are really large. Place these in a bowl and run cold water to wash over them to wash away any dirt. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place the raw garlic cloves and the oil in a small saucepan with a lid and simmer on low heat until the cloves are caramelized and brown and the oil is fragrant, about 15 minutes. If the garlic isn’t golden enough, increase the heat and tilt the pan until all the garlic is submerged in the oil. Season the oil with a pinch of salt. Set aside, but keep warm. If you make the oil and garlic in advance, warm on the stovetop or in the microwave before using to season the hot blanched broccoli.
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and stir. Add the broccoli florets and cook until crisp-tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the florets to a clean serving bowl. Do not plunge them in ice water because you want them warm to absorb the garlic and cheese.
Pour the oil and garlic cloves over the broccoli. Toss the broccoli and dust liberally with the grated parmesan cheese. If you like things a little spicy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve immediately. It is best eaten warm or at room temperature.