Broccoli is good. No, it is! Good for you, sure, yes, high in fiber and vitamin C and some things called carotenoids that I'm pretty sure were the bad guys in The Fifth Element? But also they are supposed to have antioxidant properties, which means they make you immune to rust.
But also, broccoli is good. It tastes good and is satisfying to eat. Granted, when you think of descriptive words to pair with broccoli, good and satisfying might come after such other words as nutrition and ugh and ratherbedead, but that's probably because, like most people, you most commonly encounter broccoli both in its raw form and while consumed with shame and self-loathing over the atrocious state of your physiological health. Cooked, well and lustily, as though it were a yummy foodstuff and not the concept of abnegation born to grim green fibrous life, it's delicious. Delicious enough, even, to make you eat all that you have, without being told that you may not leave the table until you do, and then want more.
And no, we're not talking about rapini (broccoli rabe), here, or Chinese broccoli, or broccolini, or any of the other, at-the-moment sexier strains of broccoli. We're talking about regular-ass Calabrese broccoli, the dour stumpy shit you pick last when drafting from the veggie tray. When you treat it with love, it is downright lovable. And here, when we say treat it with love, we mean cook it with garlic and anchovies. Which is almost cheating, really, since you could cook a fistful of wet gravel in garlic and anchovies and it'd taste pretty good—but, even you must concede that broccoli is a lot better to begin with than a fistful of wet gravel.
Oh shut up, of course it is. Dammit, see for yourself. Here we go.
For starters, acquire some fresh broccoli. Regular-ass broccoli, here, if you please. It comes in heads, an ordinary-sized one of which, when cut into pieces (as we'll do in a second), will provide enough broccoli for three adults to think, "Damn, I wish we had some more of this delicious broccoli," so maybe get two of them.
Your head(s) of broccoli have thick stems that get more and more tough and fibrous toward the bottom. With your most terrifying kitchen knife, trim the broccoli stem, by lopping off whatever looks to you like the bottom, oh, quarter or third or so of it, just to get rid of the woodiest bit. (Also, hey! That woody bit you just chopped off: Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge if you think you can talk yourself into making vegetable broth any time in the next couple of days. You can get the fragrance and flavor out of it and into yourself without ever having to chew it, which is nice, since it's fragrant and flavorful, but also has the texture of a park bench.)
Now, cut your broccoli into florets. These are the little individual broccoli, uh, guys or whatever, that you recognize from the sad raw veggie tray some guilt-wracked parental figure foisted on you at periodic intervals of your childhood in a meager and inadequate gesture toward balancing out the hot nacho cheese that constituted the other 94 percent of your diet: A shock of dark green broccoli plumage at the end of a couple inches of light green stalk. This is pretty annoying work, but if you bear down and get through it, I promise the next step is only 10 times as annoying.
Peel the outer skin off the stalk part of your broccoli florets. I know. Listen: I know! It's the most annoying goddamn thing, how the surface of the broccoli is all knobby and nonporous, and the potato peeler can't seem to grab ahold of it, and then it does and you start to make some progress and it hits a broccoli-knuckle and jars loose almost instantaneously, and you whip the fucking potato peeler so hard at the wall that it stabs into the plaster and sticks, jutting out of the wall accusingly, the hard and merciless Finger of Judgment, pointing at you, there, rooted to the floor, the Defendant, why didn't you stick with the tuba lessons, it was your dream, you damn coward, you flopping abortive wreck, look at what you have become, can't even peel a damn broccoli floret or play the tuba. Stick with this. Show yourself that you can finish a task, some task, any goddamn task, but really this task, because the broccoli cooks faster and more evenly and tastes better and is a prettier shade of green without that fibrous outer skin.
So now it is the year 2071 and you have finished peeling the skin off your broccoli florets; the internet is gone and anyway there's too much smog to read by, but that's okay because you had this broccoli preparation uploaded to your brain before the lights went out, and you are ready to proceed. Hey! While you've got that big scary knife out, mince some garlic. Two cloves per head (not per floret! dear God that would be a lotta fuggin' garlic) of broccoli. You're not looking for garlic sand, here; just chop it to reasonably uniform smallness and move on.
Okay. Now it is time for some actual cooking. Haul out a big skillet or saucier pan or flat-bottomed wok that is big enough for all the broccoli, and cook a nice big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes in a couple glugs of olive oil over low-ish heat. Don't let it sizzle or the pepper flakes will burn and make everything taste burnt; just keep the heat low and let the pepper make the oil, uh, you know, the other kind of hot. Piquant. It's a good word!
After a couple minutes of this, the oil will look a bit more orange and dangerous than it did when you started; it'll smell capsaicin-y, too. Dump a couple of anchovy fillets into the pan. Maybe, oh, just one little fillet for each head of broccoli you'll be serving, unless you're sexy and charismatic and thus super into anchovies, in which case use a couple more of them. Kinda move these around a little bit with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula or tongs or Christ not your fingers nooooo as they cook, and they'll dissolve away to nothing in a minute or two.
Now you're going to do a few things in quick succession. Ready? Okay. First, toss your minced garlic into the pan. Move this around just for a few seconds; as soon as the smell of hot garlic hits your nose, pour a cup of water (per head of broccoli) into the pan and turn the heat up to high. Within a minute or two that water should be boiling; when it gets there, dump your peeled broccoli florets into the pan, sprinkle a modest pinch of salt onto them, jam some kind of lid on there, and set a timer for five minutes.
And next, leave the broccoli alone. Can't it just have a few minutes to hang out with its one cool friend, Garlic-Scented Steam? Gosh. Back off.
When the timer goes off, remove the lid and check out your broccoli. How vividly green and lovely it looks! How appetizing its aroma is, mingled with the scents of garlic and olive oil! How foolish you were to bury your face in it, and how many skin grafts will be required to make you presentable again!
With your chosen moving-things-around-in-a-pan implement, keep the broccoli moving for just another minute or so, un-lidded, until the water has boiled away. Don't stir the broccoli, or you'll wreck the individual florets; slide your instrument of kitchen action under the broccoli and kinda turn it over and gently toss it. This keep the broccoli looking shapely and neat, and get it more-or-less evenly coated with the other flavorful stuff in there, the garlic and anchovy and oil.
When the water's pretty much all boiled away, or anyway there's not a big puddle of it at the bottom of the pan, that's it. Get the broccoli the hell out of there, and into some kind of serving dish. If you want to sprinkle it with the juice of a fresh lemon wedge, that's cool, it'll cut nicely against the oil, but it's not necessary. Serve this stuff right away, while it's still very hot.
The weird thing is how exciting that will seem.
Broccoli, being after all broccoli, will make a nice and dietarily responsible-seeming side to lend a veneer of balance and sanity to your ludicrously unhealthful main dish of choice: a quintuple cheeseburger, or a breaded and fried quintuple cheeseburger, or some nightmare casserole with breaded and fried quintuple cheeseburgers swimming in hot cream of mushroom soup, or whatever. But, I mean, it would've made a nice and dietarily responsible-seeming side for that stuff even if you'd just left it raw. You did cool stuff with this broccoli! It's got flavor and heat coming out the ass! Just this once, don't make it your meal's designated driver. Park it next to something sane and mild—some seared white fish, say—and enjoy it on its own merits.
And hey, it's got lots of those. The cooking took the edge off the texture, but it's still got enough bite to be fun, and then it's nutty and salty and faintly sweet and ever so slightly bitter, and sneakily hot there at the end, so that you chase the first bite down with the next, and the next, until you're wishing you had more of that damn broccoli, and blaming me for it, even though I told you to get two of them, dammit.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His writing appeared in Best Food Writing 2014 by DaCapo Press. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at firstname.lastname@example.org. Image by Sam Woolley.
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