Three ways to cook cauliflower and broccoli

 Romanesco broccoli, those curious-looking bright chartreuse spiky specimens, can be cooked like regular cruciferous vegetables.
Romanesco broccoli, those curious-looking bright chartreuse spiky specimens, can be cooked like regular cruciferous vegetables.NYTimes
Baked romanesco broccoli with mozzarella and olives.
Baked romanesco broccoli with mozzarella and olives.NYTimes
Cruciferous vegetables can be boiled, steamed or roasted and perked up with citrus and spice flavours.
Cruciferous vegetables can be boiled, steamed or roasted and perked up with citrus and spice flavours. NYTimes
Pan-roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and rosemary.
Pan-roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and rosemary. NYTimes
Peppery breadcrumbs lend crunch to a dish of butter-steamed broccoli.
Peppery breadcrumbs lend crunch to a dish of butter-steamed broccoli. NYTimes

Vegetables go in and out of style. These days, the darlings of the vegetable set tend to be cruciferous.

Cauliflower is simply adored, and broccoli, a close relative, is nearly as well loved. Kale is still in vogue, as is broccolini, a hybrid cross of gai-lan and broccoli. All have a certain humble, cabbagey, shabby-chic aspect.

There is no need to settle for plain steamed cauliflower or broccoli, however. There isn’t a cruciferous vegetable that couldn’t be made more compelling with garlic, red pepper and lemon, more delectable with a bit of oil, butter or cheese.

The classic Anglo baked cauliflower, smothered in cream sauce and long cooked until tender, is comfort food for many, as homey as mac and cheese. I confess I also like it that way. But I am usually more inclined to head in a different direction.

Many vegetables are good candidates for roasting in a hot oven, lightly coated with oil, or over high heat in a skillet. Cauliflower certainly is. Roasting concentrates its flavor and sweetness, producing lovely crisp browned edges. Some cut it into medium-size florets, but my favourite way is to slice cauliflower into rough, random-shaped slices about half a centimetre to 1cm thick. The slices have flat surfaces for better browning, and there are always some nice crumbly bits that brown, adding texture. 

Roasted cauliflower slices may be seasoned simply with salt and pepper, or more complexly with a mixture of Indian spices like cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric. A more Mediterranean approach is to shower them with garlic, parsley and rosemary during the last minute or two of cooking. Cauliflower’s benign nature also begs for a hit of lemon and hot pepper.

In Sicily, cauliflower comes in many colours, displayed in abundant piles at the market. You see the familiar white ones, but also a pale-green variety in Palermo, or a violet-purple kind from Catania. To confuse matters, most Sicilians call cauliflower broccoli, even though the Italian word for it is cavolfiore.

A traditional way to prepare it is baked with a topping of soft sheep’s milk cheese and black olives. It is quite a tasty combination, but some versions are underwhelming or bland. I think the addition of a little anchovy, garlic and hot pepper perks it up admirably. I use a combination of cow’s milk mozzarella and pecorino cheese to stand in for the Sicilian sheep’s cheese. I also substituted romanesco broccoli, those curious-looking bright chartreuse spiky specimens, with delicious results. You may use any kind of cauliflower for this hearty dish.

The standard bushy green broccoli, the kind with one thick stem you can find everywhere, is serviceable, sturdy and long-lasting. But the fresher the broccoli, the more flavourful it is. In my experience, the organic broccoli at the supermarket (which is mainly from California) tends to be fresher and tastier than conventional. Also look for so-called sprouting broccoli, smaller and multi-stemmed, which you’ll find at farmers’ markets in temperate climates.

The way you cut the broccoli can make a difference, too. Instead of chopping off large puffy florets, which often end up overcooked, try making longer, thinner spears. I like to butter-steam them, which essentially means simmering in a shallow butter-and-water bath, covered, over high heat. In the process, the broccoli absorbs all, or nearly all, the savoury cooking liquid, and takes no more than five minutes or so to cook. It may be enhanced further with a generous application of crunchy, peppery breadcrumbs.

Feel free to make any of the three following recipes with cauliflower, broccoli or romanesco; they are fairly interchangeable. And, being crucifers, all are equally stylish.

Baked Romanesco Broccoli With Mozzarella and Olives

Romanesco broccoli, those curious-looking bright chartreuse spiky specimens, can be cooked like regular cruciferous vegetables.NYTimes

Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS 

Salt and pepper
2 or 3 medium heads romanesco broccoli (about 1.3kg)
3Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dish
450g fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan (about 56g)
1 dozen soft black oil-cured olives, or another type of black olive, pitted
1 tsp roughly chopped capers
4 roughly chopped anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
Pinch of dried oregano

METHOD

1. Put a large pot of well-salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cut broccoli into quarters and trim away the core and any tough bits. Chop quarters into rough 5cm cubes. Transfer to boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water.
3. Lightly oil an earthenware baking dish. Arrange blanched broccoli in one layer. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
4. Tear mozzarella slices and scatter over the top, then sprinkle with pecorino. Arrange olives here and there. In a small bowl, stir together capers, anchovy, garlic, red pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Drizzle mixture evenly over the top.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until cheese has browned a bit and broccoli is tender when pierced with a fork. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a good pinch of dried oregano.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower With Garlic, Parsley and Rosemary

Cruciferous vegetables can be boiled, steamed or roasted and perked up with citrus and spice flavours. NYTimes

Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS 

2 medium cauliflower heads (about 900g)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
1 tsp grated or finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 cup roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped
1 red Fresno chili, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving

METHOD

1. Cut each cauliflower in quarters and remove the core. Cut quarters into 1cm-thick slices. Chop down wider slices so all are approximately the same jagged size.
2. Heat olive oil in a heavy wide skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add cauliflower and toss to coat using a metal spatula or flat wooden spoon. Season generously with salt and pepper.
3. Keeping heat brisk, repeatedly turn the cauliflower, letting the slices brown as they cook. Adjust heat as necessary to keep them sizzling nicely but not scorching. Continue to stir and flip the cauliflower until it is tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes.
4. Add crushed red pepper, garlic, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest. Stir well to coat and cook 1 minute more. Check seasoning, then transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with almonds and Fresno chili, if using, and serve with lemon wedges.

Butter-Steamed Broccoli With Peppery Bread Crumbs

Peppery breadcrumbs lend crunch to a dish of butter-steamed broccoli. NYTimes

Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
Salt
1 large head or 2 medium heads broccoli (900g)
4 Tbsps unsalted butter
56g Parmesan cheese, for shaving

METHOD

1. Heat oven to 176 degrees Celsius. Spread breadcrumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes, turning pan and stirring crumbs occasionally to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and transfer crumbs to a bowl. Stir in black pepper and salt to taste. Set aside at room temperature.
2. Cut off thick stems of broccoli and save for another purpose, such as soup. Cut broccoli tops into 8cm-long spears of approximately equal size.
3. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt butter, add broccoli spears and season with salt. Add 1 cup water, turn heat to high and cover skillet with a tightfitting lid. Cook rapidly until firm-tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes. The broccoli should absorb all the butter and water. (If there is any buttery liquid left, spoon over broccoli just before serving.)
4. Transfer broccoli to a serving platter or a large wide shallow bowl. Sprinkle generously with peppery crumbs. Using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmesan into rough shards and scatter over the top.