A few months ago, I tested a recipe for the Franny's Brooklyn Cookbook I'm working on. It was the simplest, more pure broccoli soup I'd ever eaten: rich and savory, but still tasting of the essence of the vegetable, made without any kind of stock. It was a chunky puree with a snowy mountain of good cheese on top, finished with a bright squirt of lemon.
The technique is pure genius on Andrew Feinberg's part (he's the chef at Franny's). Brown the broccoli thoroughly in plenty of oil, but only on one side. This builds a foundation of flavor without obliterating the peppery, green taste of the broccoli since one side is left unbrowned and naked.
I know this is a tease, because I can't publish the recipe until the book comes out, which won't be until--oh, around 2013. But I wanted to write about it because I made the soup again last week with some leftover broccoli stems and leaves (no florets) and it was just as wonderful. See how pretty:
photo by Olga Massov
I'd never been great at saving broccoli stems (confession time, I used to throw them out). I knew I wasn't supposed to. Everyone who was a better cook than I said to save them, peel them, and use them along with the florets.
But it just seemed like too much trouble. Anyway in this age of nose-to-tail vegetable cooking, I finally saved a pile of stems leftover from making my favorite garlicky broccoli salad for my friend Alice's book party. (Go buy her fantastic new book, Naked Wine - everything you want to know about natural and organic wines is in this book!)
I dutifully put them in a bag in the fridge, but, between you and me, I really didn't have much faith that I'd do anything other than throw them out once they started to get slimy in a few weeks. In the meantime they would torment me, making me feel guilty and inadequate.
Luckily, soup weather descended early and I remembered Andrew's fantastic broccoli soup. So I whipped up a batch with the stems. I didn't go too crazy with the peeling, just ran a peeler up the stalks to get rid of any brown spots. Then I chopped the stems up, along with the leaves, and browned everything in plenty of oil, in batches.
Cooking in batches is key here because if you overcrowd the pan, the broccoli will steam instead of brown. Once all the broccoli bits were crisp and golden, I salted them. Then took what was left after eating quite a few bites because you know, olive oil fried broccoli is crazy-good, added it to some sauteed onion and garlic, and poured in just enough water to barely cover everything. A few minutes of simmering brought the flavors together. Then I stuck in an imersion blender to smooth things out.
Some cheese on top (parmesan or pecorino), a squeeze of lemon, another drizzle of oil and it's a fantastic soup, perfect for today -- even if you end up making it with entire heads of broccoli and not just the stems.