Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Pickled Broccoli Stems
I have trouble throwing things out. Condiments stay in the refrigerator until the next move, even those I am fairly certain I'll never taste again (yes, I'm talking about you, weird Russian chicory concentrate). There's a T-shirt in my closet marking the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (1995, for those of you who don't have the date committed to memory). And then there are the broccoli stems.
Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. The flowery tops sop up any sauce, from stir-fry to coconut curry. And if you roast it, the caramelized green-and-gold, vegetal-and-sweet end result is one of the best dishes you can imagine. But the stalks? Not so much. No little flowers to add textural interest and flavor, or meld into a larger dish. Just a whole lot of dense green.
For many years, I've dealt with my waste-o-phobia (and spend-money-o-phobia) by making my own soup stock. There's a bag in the freezer where I toss carrot tops, onion peels, tomato cores, and those last stalks of celery that go limp despite our best efforts. Whenever I need some vegetable broth, I dump the contents of the bag into my pressure cooker, add salt and water, and lock the lid. But, unfortunately, I can't do that with broccoli stems.
Broccoli, like its cousins kale and cauliflower, is a member of the plant genus Brassica. This cabbagey, mustardy family (which, incidentally, also contains cabbages and mustards) is known for its high fiber, and large helping of cancer-fighting compounds. And, oh yeah, its sharp taste and smell. The compounds that give the Brassica family its health benefits also result in a distinctive flavor, one that gets stronger with extended cooking (as anyone who grew up in a home with boiled cabbage dishes can attest). This mustardy edge can be great on its own, but it's not something you can subtly layer into your vegetable broth.
Thankfully, I discovered something that can be done with broccoli stalks. Something delicious. Now instead of sadly tossing stalks on the compost pile, or letting them overpower a dish a dish with their dense crunch, I pickle them. And the pickles are lovely. Salt and vinegar tame some of the peppery edge of raw broccoli, and the garlic adds a great savory depth. They've become my favorite cocktail snack. I can't believe I used to throw them out.
Pickled Broccoli Stemsadapted from The New York Times, 3/3/09 makes about 1/2 cup
Broccoli is most easily peeled with a paring knife, as its irregular surface makes it difficult to use a standard peeler. Cut off any tough skin on the bottom end, and slide your paring knife under the tough peel. Press the peel between your thumb and the knife, and tug towards the top end. You should be able to peel the outer skin off in strips this way. Repeat until all of the tough peel is removed.
stems from 1 bunch of broccoli
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 1/2 Tbsp sherry vinegar, or 1 Tbsp of a sharper vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
Peel the broccoli stems, and slice them crosswise into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Place in a jar with the salt, cover, and shake to distribute. Refrigerate several hours, or overnight.
Drain off the accumulated liquid. Add the remaining ingredients, shake again to distribute. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight, to allow flavors to permeate, shaking occasionally. Serve with toothpicks or small forks. The oil may solidify, but will quickly liquify at room temperature. The green color will fade after a day or so, but they'll still be delicious.