Wedding season has begun around here, and it’s going to progress with a vengeance. It’s possible that I can count on one hand the number of weekends we’re going to be home this summer! Not that I’m complaining. I love the opportunity it brings to see friends that you rarely get to see otherwise and to spend more time with those you do, raising toasts with them and cutting a rug on the dance floor.
However, at these kinds of events I have a terrible habit of getting nostalgic for the present. Wishing that every day were spent with friends from all over gathered around us. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to wish for this. But if you get too nostalgic for the present, you actually miss out on it! So, I’ve been trying simply to bask in it, and soak it all in instead.
This weekend was especially great because the wedding we went to was in this area. This meant we got to have dear friends staying with us at our house, there to spend the precious in between moments with us. The moments of of not doing anything in particular, or groggily grabbing a morning cup of coffee, or watching the bird building a nest on the neighbor’s roof.
And of course, when we weren’t off at wedding related events, I couldn’t stop myself from cooking up a storm and feeding everyone until we were all ready to burst. It can be such fun to have a full table. The camera stayed tucked away in the corner though, so I’m going to go ahead and share something else with you. Something that I cooked last week and pretty much haven’t stopped thinking about since.
I believe at some point last year, I claimed that I had made the best broccoli ever. A bold claim, but I felt fairly convinced at the time that it was (at least mostly) vindicated. I should have known better. I don’t actually believe in the idea that we can have never ending growth and progress, including in the area of cooking. I think some things are best left unimproved. They are already great. But, it turns out broccoli still had a couple of notches left for taking it up. Back then, I had only made the best broccoli ever yet. But now, now I would say that I have made the best broccoli ever…Okay, fine, ever yet.
It follows some similar principles as the original best broccoli, tender broccoli with delicious dark charred patches, punctuated by sweet-sour-tangy flavors. But it is a totally different dish. That broccoli was roasted and tossed with preserved lemon. This broccoli is grilled. And, do you know what grilling does for broccoli? It makes it amazing, that’s what it does. I should have thought of this long ago, given that grilling does wonders for almost every other vegetable out there as well. The smokey, charcoal-y flavor it gives is marvelous with the sweetness of cooked vegetables. The high heat and low moisture of grilling also concentrates the flavor of broccoli and cooks its flesh until it is almost creamy yet still crisp. Oh, and the little flowers get all wonderfully blackened! It’s so good.
The grilled would be tasty enough by itself, but it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. It gets better. Inspired by a broccoli and bread salad in a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine (which I seem to have wound up with a subscription to after signing up for a deal on getting wine from them through their wine club. I then quickly canceled the wine club membership because it turns out you get 12 bottles a month! I had thought it was 12 bottles per year! Oops. I don’t need to drink or pay for 12 bottles of wine a month, thank you.) I made some quick pickled shallots and raisins to toss with the broccoli. And, now I’m furious that none of you has ever taken me aside before to chide me for not pickling shallots and raisins yet. Why have I not been pickling shallots and raisins every day??!!!
They have that perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Then add in a bit of bite from the shallot and and breezy herbal notes from rosemary and thyme. You can make them right before you start cooking everything else and they’ll be adequately pickled by the time dinner is ready for putting on the table. I could just eat them with my fingers. I could eat them on sandwiches, or on tacos, or on grains, or in salads, or on pizza.
And, I could most certainly eat them tossed with a grilled broccoli salad. I tied the whole thing together, the grilled broccoli the raisins and the shallots, with a light lemon dressing, and let me tell you, the marriage of flavors and textures here are of the sort that make it really hard to stop yourself from taking just one more nibble. Indeed, you may find yourself downing an entire head of broccoli on your own, without a second thought. I really think this may be the best broccoli ever. At least for now.
Grilled broccoli with quick pickled shallots and golden raisins (serves 4, or actually more like 2 if you’re anything like us) Adapted (quite a bit) from Food & Wine, May 2011
I made this with tender young broccoli that we found at the market. Young spring broccoli is really nice, less woody than older broccoli. And, it comes in willowy individual spears. However, you can use regular broccoli as well. Just trim off the woodiest parts of the stem and then cut it into long spears.
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup sherry (or white wine) vinegar
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, divided (for each of these herbs you could use dried, in half the amount, if you can’t come by fresh)
- olive oil
- the zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 Tbs. of lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 lb. tender young broccoli, or regular broccoli with the stems peeled (just use a vegetable peeler), cut into long spears
- In a small saucepan stir together the wine, vinegar, and honey. Bring to a boil. While it is coming to a boil, put the shallots into one small heat proof bowl and the raisins into another. Once the liquid mixture has come just to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour 2 Tbs. of it over the raisins. Pour the rest over the shallots. Stir the 1 tsp. salt, thyme and 1 tsp. of the rosemary in with the shallots. Cover both bowls and let sit while you prepare the rest of the meal. (You want them to sit for at least 30-45 minutes. They can also go for longer).
- Light your grill. Spread your broccoli out on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss it with several big glugs of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In another small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lemon zest and juice with another 2-3 Tbs. olive oil, the garlic, red pepper flakes, and the remaining tsp. of rosemary.
- Grill the broccoli over medium heat until it is nicely charred on the outside and slightly tender, 8-10 minutes. Then, remove it from the grill, cover it with foil wrap and let it sit for 3 or so minutes to steam. In the meantime, drain the shallots and the raisins. Then, toss the broccoli, shallots, and raisins together with the lemon dressing and serve.
- If you’d like, I think this would be really excellent topped with toasted nuts or crumbled goat cheese. But it was also phenomenal just by itself. I served it alongside some salmon that I had brushed with olive oil mixed with a couple of tsp. of za’atar and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and then grilled. It was a pretty perfect meal.