Broccoli, Cauliflower, or Just About Anything Else, Roman Style

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

If there’s a more versatile way to cook vegetables, it’s boiling, and this is much more interesting. You see almost everything done this way in Rome, and it’s always good. The variation is a little simpler, but it requires more judgment; prepared correctly, it will be just as good.

Other vegetables you can use: almost anything dark, leafy greens, like collards and kale; green beans; carrots; potatoes; turnips; or beets, for example.

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 dried chiles (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound broccoli or cauliflower (about 1 medium head), trimmed, broken into florets of any size, parboiled, (see Shocking Vegetables), and dried

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, with the chiles if you’re using them, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden, a minute or two. Add the drained vegetable and raise the heat to high. Cook, stirring only when necessary you don’t want the vegetable to fall apart until it begins to brown; add the lemon zest and cook for another minute or two.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, drizzle with some more oil, garnish with the parsley, and serve.

Variation

Braised and Glazed Broccoli, Cauliflower, or Just about Anything Else. No precooking needed: In Step 1, start with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Thirty seconds after adding the garlic, add the broccoli or cauliflower and 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pan. Cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until the broccoli or cauliflower is just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat, and cook out all but a little of the remaining water (by then the vegetables should be turning golden). Proceed with the recipe from Step 2.

Broccoli Raab

Broccoli Rape, Rabe, or Rapini

Whether a slender and bitter cousin of broccoli, or more closely related to the turnip (which apparently is the reality), broccoli raab is one great vegetable: strongly and deliciously flavored and easy to prepare and cook. It has elongated stems with small flower heads surrounded by variously sized spiky leaves.

Buying and storing: Look for bright green color, crisp stems, and unwilted leaves. Avoid those with more than a few tiny yellow flowers blooming; they’ll be too bitter. Store wrapped loosely in plastic in the refrigerator; use as soon as possible.

Preparing: Trim the dry ends of the stems and pull off any yellowing or wilted leaves. Parboil and (see Shocking Vegetables) to preserve the green color or for quicker final cooking.

Best cooking methods: Boiling, steaming, microwaving, or braising.

When is it done? When you can insert a skewer or thin-bladed knife into the thickest part of the stalk. Undercooked broccoli raab is too crisp; overcooked broccoli raab is mushy.

Other vegetables to substitute: Broccoli, asparagus, gai lan, or turnip or mustard greens.

Brussels Sprouts

Believed to have been developed in Belgium (hence the name), these miniature cabbages are among my favorites when cooked properly. The tiny heads grow in vertical rows on long, thick stalks; occasionally they’re sold still on the stalk, which isn’t necessarily a sign of freshness.

Buying and storing: Brussels sprouts are a winter vegetable and are best from early fall through early spring. Smaller is better; reject any with yellow or loose leaves or those that are soft or not tightly packed. Store wrapped loosely in plastic in the refrigerator.

Preparing: Trim the hard edge of the stem and remove any loose leaves. Cut, slice, or leave whole.

Best cooking method: Roasted, sauted, or simmered.

When are they done? When just tender enough to be pierced easily by a skewer or a thin-bladed knife. Do not overcook.

Other vegetables to substitute: Any cabbage.