By: The Editors of Relish magazine
If broccoli were a tree, it would be an oak, guardian of the vegetable forest. Since the days of the Roman Empire, it has served legions of Italians as a dependable and surprisingly versatile element of the culinary landscape.
Why then, stateside, is it so thoroughly misunderstood? Mostly, bad preparation. If there’s one way to make a lifelong enemy of broccoli, it’s by cooking it into mushy, army-green oblivion—a sight many of us are still trying to erase from our childhood memories. One of the best ways to keep it crisp is a quick steam (3 to 4 minutes) until it’s barely fork tender and a bright, emerald green. Then you’re ready for everything from stir-fries to pasta dishes to casseroles.
Still not convinced? Try cheese and broccoli, a great combo that creates some great gateway dishes for finicky children and spouses. Also, try roasting it, which brings out bold, caramelized flavors that can convert nonbelievers into lifelong fans.
Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
A wide, shallow baking or gratin dish provides plenty of space for the crumbs on top to get crunchy.
6 cups bite-size broccoli florets and stems, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) hot cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
1/4 cup diced, drained jarred roasted red pepper, patted dry
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups 2 percent reduced-fat milk
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 425F. Coat a 10-inch round shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
- Steam or boil broccoli 3 minutes, or until crisp tender. Arrange in dish and top with chicken and red pepper.
- In medium saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Add milk and broth, whisking constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 2 minutes. Stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Pour over chicken.
- In a small skillet, melt remaining 2 teaspoons butter; add breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over chicken mixture. Bake 20 minutes, or until hot. Serves 4.
Recipe by Jean Kressy
Photo by Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn