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Boost flavors of cruciferous veggies

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Baked romanesco broccoli with mozzarella and olives.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Cauliflower no longer comes in only basic white. The many varieties offer a rainbow of choices.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Cauliflower is sliced to create flat pieces that brown better, then seasoned with garlic, parsley and rosemary.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Butter-steamed broccoli with peppery bread crumbs.

Vegetables go in and out of style. These days the darlings of the vegetable set tend to be cruciferous. Cauliflower is simply adored, and broccoli, a close relative, is nearly as well loved. Kale is still in vogue, as is broccolini, a hybrid cross of broccoli and gai lan, or long-stemmed Chinese broccoli. All have a certain humble, cabbagey, shabby-chic aspect.

There is no need to settle for plain steamed cauliflower or broccoli, however. There isn’t a cruciferous vegetable that couldn’t be made more compelling with garlic, red pepper and lemon, more delectable with a bit of oil, butter or cheese.

The classic Anglo baked cauliflower, smothered in cream sauce and long cooked until tender, is comfort food for many, as homey as mac and cheese. I confess I also like it that way. But I am usually more inclined to head in a different direction.

Many vegetables are good candidates for roasting in a hot oven, lightly coated with oil, or over high heat in a skillet. Cauliflower certainly is.

Roasting concentrates its flavor and sweetness, producing lovely crisp browned edges. Some cut it into medium-size florets, but my favorite way is to slice cauliflower into rough, random-shaped slices. The slices have flat surfaces for better browning, and there are always some nice crumbly bits that brown, adding texture.

Roasted cauliflower slices can be seasoned simply with salt and pepper or with a more complex mixture of Indian spices like cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric. A more Mediterranean approach is to shower them with garlic, parsley and rosemary in the last minutes of cooking. Cauliflower’s benign nature also begs for a hit of lemon and hot pepper.

Standard bushy green broccoli, the kind with one thick stem you can find everywhere, is serviceable, sturdy and long-lasting. But the fresher the broccoli, the more flavorful it is. In my experience the organic broccoli at the supermarket tends to be fresher and tastier.

The way you cut broccoli can make a difference, too. Instead of large puffy florets, which often end up overcooked, try making longer, thinner spears. I like to butter-steam them, which essentially means simmering in butter and water, covered, over high heat. In the process, the broccoli absorbs all, or nearly all, the savory cooking liquid, and takes no more than five minutes or so to cook.

Feel free to make any of these recipes with any variety of cauliflower or broccoli; they are fairly interchangeable. And, being crucifers, all are equally stylish.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower With Garlic, Parsley and Rosemary

  • 2 medium cauliflower heads (about 2 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon grated or finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 red Fresno chili, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Cut each cauliflower in quarters and remove cores. Cut quarters into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Chop down wider slices so all are approximately the same jagged size.

Heat olive oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high. Add cauliflower and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Repeatedly turn cauliflower, letting slices brown. Adjust heat as necessary to keep them sizzling nicely but not scorching. Continue to stir and flip until cauliflower is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add crushed red pepper, garlic, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest. Stir well to coat and cook 1 minute more. Check seasoning, then transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with almonds and chili, if using, and serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4 to 6.

Butter-Steamed Broccoli With Peppery Breadcrumbs

  • 1-1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 large head or 2 medium heads broccoli (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread breadcrumbs on rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes, turning pan and stirring crumbs occasionally to ensure even browning. Transfer crumbs to a bowl. Stir in pepper and salt. Set aside.

Cut off thick stems of broccoli and save for another purpose, such as soup. Cut broccoli tops into 3-inch-long spears of approximately equal size.

Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt butter, add broccoli spears and season with salt. Add 1 cup water, turn heat to high and cover skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Cook rapidly until firm-tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes. The broccoli should absorb all the butter and water. (If any buttery liquid is left, spoon over broccoli just before serving.)

Transfer broccoli to a serving platter or a wide but shallow bowl. Sprinkle generously with peppery crumbs. Using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmesan into rough shards and scatter over top. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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