Broccoli stems in broccoli sauce
Cooked and seasoned vegetables left to cool to room temperature are so pleasing to eat. I find the flavour and complexity comes through more than when the vegetables are eaten raw, and it is much easier to tell the differences in how the produce is grown – that is, whether it is grown in good, fertile soil versus sandy soil or even water. Much like Goldilocks’ porridge, temperature plays a big role. As soon as a cooked vegetable hits the refrigerator the flavour gets clammed up; conversely, when served hot, they are also not at their best. Served at ambient temperature they are just right.
The critical part of this recipe is the point at which you season. Salt becomes much more integrated with the vegetable once the cell structure has opened from cooking. It draws the salt in and heightens any sweetness that exists within. Adding the salt at the start of the process produces a different result. The water becomes “hard” and the vegetable tends to taste saltier, even with the same quantity added. This preparation is also key when dealing with dried pulses and beans. It’s effectively a reverse brine.
Brining is more commonly used in preparing meat, especially for grilling. My rule of thumb is to replicate sea water that generally has a salt content of about 3.5 to 4 per cent (or 35-40 grams of salt per litre of water), add some spices or hard herbs and kombu, bring to the boil until the salt is dissolved, then submerge chicken or meat cuts into this brine once cool and leave refrigerated overnight. The salt will permeate the protein and firm up the structure of the meat, which then retains its juices when cooking. When you add salt is as important as how much salt you add. Experimenting within these parameters and observing the results will help in cooking foods to your own preferences.
Broccoli stems in broccoli sauce
– 3 stems of broccoli
– 2 purple top Milan turnips
– 1 clove garlic
– 100ml grapeseed oil
– 200ml chicken stock
– 2 tbsp dried calendula petals
– 60ml apple cider vinegar
– 20g honey
– 80ml grapeseed oil
– 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
– wild fennel fronds
Peel the outer skin from the broccoli with a small knife then finish by using a vegetable peeler to take the last of the fibrous peel off (retain this peel to add to the sauce). Peel and cut the turnips into six wedges. Remove the sharp corners from the turnip and retain this trim.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and add two-thirds of the broccoli stem and all the turnip to the water. Boil for 30 seconds then pull the pot off the heat and add a more liberal amount of salt than you would normally season with, at a ratio of about 40 grams per litre of water. Let the broccoli and turnips cool in this liquid.
Peel and finely slice the garlic clove and add to the oil and stock in a small pot and bring the liquid to the boil. Slice the rest of the broccoli stem and add to the stock with the peel, turnip scraps and a small amount of seasoning. Boil for about two minutes until it almost starts to emulsify.
Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. I don’t normally feel the need to strain this sauce but it might be required if the peel is especially fibrous.
Combine the calendula with the vinegar, honey, grapeseed oil and black pepper. Whisk to mix well and adjust for seasoning, keeping in mind the salt level of the cooked stems.
Remove the larger pieces of broccoli and the turnip and place onto a towel to dry. Toss the vegetables in the sauce and then transfer onto a plate to serve, spooning the rest of the sauce over the top. Dress the vegetables with the calendula dressing and finish with wild fennel fronds.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 23, 2019 as "Seasoningly adjusted". Subscribe here.