Ottolenghi’s Char-Grilled Broccoli with Chilis and Garlic

A number of the food writers whom I read have recently mentioned a book published by the cooks behind a restaurant in England called Ottolenghi. I cannot say enough good things about this place, or their philosophy on food. Their recipes are fresh, creative, and delicious. They incorporate ingredients, techniques, and styles from the world over, and always in innovative, exciting ways. Their emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce is not only healthy, but a celebration of our world and its seasons. Theirs is food that has deep meaning. Even more importantly, they aim to make food that showcases fine cuisine and great ingredients while at once avoiding all fussiness in the preparation or presentation. Ottolenghi’s cooking is not the sort that is to be picked at, or fussed over, but instead, simply celebrated and enjoyed with great gusto in the presence of good company. This is dining with spirit! Dining that refuses to ever let form trump substance. A better example for the direction of modern cuisine is impossible to imagine, and so, I say three cheers to them. Check out their recipe blog, and I am sure you will agree, once you finish wiping your mouth of all that inevitable drool.

My lovely mom and I share a passion for good food. Recently, we were chatting, and I mentioned some of the Ottolenghi recipes I had seen so far, telling her she must look some up, as they all sounded brilliant. Being the darling peach of a woman she is, she immediately, and surreptitiously ordered me a copy of their cookbook, and had it shipped off to me in California. This wasn’t for my birthday, or anything else, but just because. I count my lucky stars for having been blessed with someone so sweet for a mother. I truly am lucky.

Every single page of this book is a feast for the eyes. The photographs are beautiful, and the recipes are doubly stunning. I will be sharing more and more from this book as I have the time to try out the recipes, but it is more than a worthwhile investment.

This recipe is the first thing I have made from it. Let me tell you, it is one of the best things I have prepared in a long time. It was so delicious, that I ended up eating two whole heads of broccoli! There are few ingredients, it is easy to prepare, and the flavors fit together brilliantly. Not to mention that it is an incredibly healthy dish. This will be a staple of my diet from here on out.

After preparing it, I realized the recipe is really just a play on the classic italian culinary theme of bagna cauda, or hot bath. A delicious dressing of olive oil is heated, and garlic and anchovies are sautéed in it, infusing their flavor into the oil. The traditional method is to then give fresh vegetables a “hot bath” in the garlic infused oil, or to set the oil out as a dip for the vegetables, a la crudités.

The spin that Ottolenghi took on the recipe was to minimize the anchovy, and to simplify and enhancing the vegetable element by skipping everything but the broccoli, and then char-grilling the florets to maximize the amazing root-vegetable flavor latent in broccoli .

The recipe in the book calls for a ridged grill pan, which I do not have. Instead, I just lit my charcoal grill, and actually char-grilled the broccoli. Though the results were amazing, I think this ended up being a little fussier than it needed to be. In the future, I think I will just light my oven to 450 or so, and roast the broccoli. There is no doubt that open flames produce a flavor that can’t really be imitated any other way, yet, the same roasted root-vegetable flavor is essentially achieved equally well in the oven, as it is on the grill. Besides this difference, I would not change the recipe at all.

Ottolenghi’s Char Grilled Broccoli with Chilis and Garlic

  • 2 heads of broccoli (if you wanna get fancy, use the purple sprouting stuff)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 ripe red fresno peppers (other red chilis will work, but fresnos are my favorite, and growing in my garden)
  • 1 anchovy fillet (This is optional, but I think it adds a lot. I use the olive oil packed sort from trader joes)
  • sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • a few very thin slices of lemon

Slice the garlic atomically thin. Slice the fresno peppers. Pat the anchovy fillet dry with a paper towel. If using a charcoal grill, light the coals now.

Separate the broccoli into individual florets.

Fill a pot with water high enough to cover all the broccoli, and set it on the stove on high to boil. While waiting, prepare a large bowl of ice water, and leave it in the sink. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli to blanch it. The blanching is important – if you just go directly to grilling, the broccoli will turn out with charred surfaces, but the florets will remain raw inside.

However, it is very important that you do not let the broccoli cook for any more than 2 minutes in the boiling water. Any more time will really hurt this dish, leading to soggy, sagging, droopy, wilty, gassy broccoli, which is something no one likes.

At just under 2 minutes, pour the broccoli and boiling water out through a colander. Immediately transfer the blanched broccoli to the bowl of ice water. It is essential that you do this as quickly as possible, so that the broccoli stops cooking from the retained heat.

Dry the Broccoli. If using the oven to roast the blanched broccoli, heat it to 450F, while the broccoli is drying. Grease a baking pan, and place the broccoli on it, then bake at 450 for about 10-15 minutes, or until the florets start to char a little. If you have a ridged grill pan, heat it to high, and cook the broccoli on that, till it is evenly charred.

I used a charcoal grill, and found skewering the broccoli made the process a lot easier.

Once the skewered, take the broccoli outside, and place it on the grill.

Cook about 5-7 minutes on one side, until it is nicely charred. Then, flip, to cook the other side. Repeat this for all sides until the broccoli is cooked through, and has even char marks all over.

While the broccoli is grilling, heat about 3 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the anchovy, garlic and chili slices. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the anchovy is entirely dissolved, and the garlic just begins to turn golden brown. Be careful not to let this burn, or else it will become bitter.

Bring the broccoli inside from off the grill. Pour the hot bath of olive oil, garlic, chilis and anchovy over the still warm broccoli, and toss all together. Add three very thinly sliced lemon rounds with their skin still on for garnish. Season with the sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Toss it all together, and serve warm, or at room temperature.

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