My Annual Estival Alice Waters Moment: Wilted Broccoli with Smoked Cheddar Shavings

Tony writes: Nobody would ever mistake me for a Victory Gardener, but every spring I throw some seeds in the ground, crankily water them most nights, and then hope for something good to happen at some point over the course of the summer. I don’t get crazy about the whole thing, but I do appreciate watching how vegetables grow and the work it takes (no matter how hard I try to avoid it) to get them there. And I’ll admit it: there comes a moment each summer when things start fruiting and ripening and I pick my first vegetable from the garden, my very own, the closest I’ve come yet to giving life to another creature, and I promptly lose my mind. I snatch up whatever it is (unintentionally maiming the plant while I do so), scurry up to the kitchen, and channel those lyrical farm-to-table chefs, extolling – practically singing – the virtues of vegetables and cooking simply with them. Which is to say, I become unbearable for an hour or so. I feel the intense pull to make something quickly and share it with anybody, everybody, whoever is nearby. And so last night when I harvested my first head of broccoli – yes, my broccoli – I had my moment and went straight to the kitchen. I made a super-quick raw broccoli salad, which, I know, sounds totally unappetizing, but it was one of those deals where it tasted like a heck of a lot more. Cooks tend to leave things raw when they’re super fresh and though I’m no fan of the raw movement (you’ve probably heard of those restaurants where nothing is heated over 150F) and broccoli doesn’t fit with raw delicacies like tuna belly or beef tartare, broccoli stalks are surprisingly delicate and tender and the florets crisp and toothy when just picked (I mean just picked). I thinly sliced the stalks and florets, tossed them with some sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper, and then let them sit for 10 minutes or so, so the salt started to do its thing and wilted the already tender broccoli. I then added a splash of olive oil and some thin strips of smoked cheddar (which I happened to have sitting in the cheese drawer from recipe testing). And it was good. I would say great if I hadn’t been the one to make it. The smoked cheddar matched the light cabbage-y funkiness of the broccoli and the vinegar and oil soaked into the florets. There was nothing genius about the whole thing, but I felt excited about vegetables and properly respectful of those passionate cooks who cook this way every single day. I’m not sure if you, too, will have your broccoli moment at home or at the farmer’s market in the coming weeks, but if you do, here’s a nice, simple way to prepare it.

Serves 4 as a sidedish Prep Time: 10 minutes  Cook Time: NA

What you need: Ingredients: Broccoli (about 3/4 lb.), olive oil, sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar), S+P, smoked cheddar (or Gouda or the Spanish smoked cheese Idiazabal)

Equipment: Cutting board, chef’s knife, large bowl, peeler, tongs

How to do it: Break the crown of the broccoli into florets and then halve the florets through the stems so they’re thin. Peel and discard the outer skin of the stalks and then thinly slice the stalks. Set the broccoli in a large bowl and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, about 1 tsp. and 1/2 tsp. respectively, and a splash of sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar), about 2 Tbs. Toss well and let sit for 10 minutes so the broccoli wilts a bit. Pour in a good splash of olive oil (about 2 Tbs.) and toss well again. Add more oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste – be generous, there’s not much in here so they should be assertive! Sprinkle with some shavings of smoked cheddar (or any other smoked cheese, about 1 cup or 4 oz. – use a peeler) and serve.



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