How to cook broccoli | Back to basics

 ,  |  Updated: May 17, 2014 13:42 IST

How to cook broccoli | Back to basics
Though lumbered with a divisive reputation, evidence suggests broccoli is popular with kids and adults alike - stick to our two simple rules, and your results will never be mushy

Some people really don't like broccoli. George Bush Sr actually banned it from Air Force One, announcing: "I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. I'm President of the United States, and I'm NOT going to eat any more broccoli.''

In protest, Californian broccoli growers delivered 10 tonnes of the stuff to the White House. Their trucks were turned away.

Bush's loathing of broccoli was bordering on the obsessive: he mentioned it in public no less than 70 times during his eight years in office. (By comparison, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each mentioned broccoli once, and George Bush Jr eight times - but mostly with reference to his dad.)

Barack Obama, you will now be agitated to know, takes the opposite view - rating broccoli as his favourite food. And in this, at least, he seems to have the masses on his side. It is now the world's fifth most popular vegetable.


Many parents will testify that it is the only brassica their children will allow on the plate. (If yours are still reluctant, here's a tip. Pretend each broccoli floret is a tree, and hide an imaginary character - Robin Hood, Peppa Pig, whoever - in the branches. Then your child can be a giant and gobble them up. It's amazing how cannibalistic the little treasures can be.)

The beginner cook only needs to remember two things when tackling broccoli.

Do not undercook it

Don't be bullied into the modern orthodoxy that all green vegetables should be al dente to the point of crunchy. Most are better a little softer. The reason broccoli is so marvellous is that it has that extravagant head of hair. When these fronds are cooked just beyond al dente, they soften and start to break up a little. Whatever dressing you then add is sucked up into the juicy tangle, with sublime results. You just need to make sure you drain it well and allow it to let off plenty of steam (for maybe a minute) so that it doesn't get soggy.

Use the stalk

Peel it and cut it into batons and boil it with the florets. If you haven't tried this before, you will be amazed by the stalk's sweet meat. In the Michelin-starred restaurant where I worked after university, we used to salvage the broccoli stalks from the hotel restaurant next door.

One of my jobs was to turn them into perfect little barrels to garnish the £30 main courses we served. They were so good: a lovely pale green; sweet and buttery. I'm sure even George Bush would have succumbed.

Here, then, are my favourite things to do with broccoli - and a recipe from Jane that is both simple and simply sublime. Have you any tips with broccoli? We'd love to hear them in the comments under this piece.

5 things to do with broccoli

1 Just dress it with fresh lemon juice, salt and olive oil. It must be cooked soft.

2 Serve it with pasta. Boil it in salted water till it is quite soft. Drain it well and let it steam for five minutes so that it is quite dry. Fry some garlic in some olive oil. Add pine nuts. Then the broccoli. Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice (essential). Season and serve with pasta (cooked al dente!) and a sprinkling of parmesan. My wife cooks this for us at least once a week.

3 Boil it and dress it with olive oil and salt, and then sprinkle with dried shaved bonito flakes (katsuobushi). I know this sounds impossibly exotic, but you can buy the flakes online and the steam coming off the broccoli makes them curl and wriggle about like teeny worms. Kids love it, and, actually, so do grown-ups. We eat it all the time.

4 Inspired by the great Italian cookery writer Marcella Hazan, cook it in red wine - Calabrese style. Break 500g broccoli into florets. Shallow-fry a white onion in a glug of olive oil, layer the broccoli over it, then a handful of sliced black olives, 2 chopped anchovies and a few slivers of parmesan. Do this a couple of times, then pour over 175ml red wine, cover and cook for 1 hour.

5 Our friend Joanna Weinberg - a wonderful cookery writer - fries up sausage meat, garlic, chilli flakes and fennel seeds in a pan until there are lots of crispy brown bits. Then she adds broccoli and seasons with lemon juice and salt and pepper. Yum.

Braised broccoli with anchovy, chilli and garlic

Cooking time:
10 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves 4
500g broccoli
1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
4 anchovy fillets plus oil from tin
Salt and pepper

1 Prepare the broccoli by cutting away the florets and peeling the central stalk. Cut the stalk into thin batons.

2 Cook the broccoli florets and stalk pieces in lots of salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes. They should be a little soft, but remember they are going to be cooked again, so not too soggy. Drain and set to one side ensuring they are in a well aerated place so that the steam coming off them dries them out a bit.

3 Heat the olive oil with another tbsp oil from the anchovy tin in a large pan. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and turn down the heat to cook gently for 1 minute - without colouring the garlic. Remove from the heat and add the anchovies - stir quickly with a wooden spoon and the anchovies will start to break up and "melt" into the oil .

4 At this point add the broccoli, return to the heat and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, tossing the greens in the oil till heated through and well coated. Season carefully with salt and pepper.

Now you can use the braised broccoli ...
• Added to pasta - chop the broccoli roughly and toss with cooked orecchiette or penne
• Served with a piece of grilled salmon or white fish
• As a topping on grilled bruschetta, drizzled with good olive oil and maybe with a little parmesan grated on top.

Recipe by Jane Baxter

Tip: Lots of other greens can be cooked in this way, including purple sprouting broccoli, kale, savoy cabbage, spinach and swiss chard.

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Henry Dimbleby is co-founder of the natural fast-food restaurant chain Leon (@henry_leon). Get your kids cooking at

Just dress with fresh lemon juice, salt and olive oil. It must be cooked soft. All photography: Tamin Jones for the Guardian



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