Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto
With just one episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown changed my views on broccoli forever. This life altering event occurred around the time that Dustin and I first moved in together. We were sitting on the couch one night studying for goodness only knows what classes and watching the Food Network when an episode of Good Eats came on that featured a better way to cook typically distained vegetables, like brussels sprouts and broccoli, which when steamed or boiled take on that distinctively stinky vegetable smell.
In his typically zany way, Alton described the benefits of high-temp roasting and grilling, in digestible chunks of chemistry. Essentially, it all boils down to the Maillard Reaction. What, you might ask, is the Maillard Reaction? The Maillard Reaction is the reaction which caramelizes sugars in food to turn it brown. There are many examples of the Maillard Reaction in modern cooking, from the browning of butter solids to form a nutty and complex browned butter to the charring of vegetables over an open flame. But really, when any browning of a food takes place, the Maillard Reaction is present, from grilling steaks, to making toast, to roasting vegetables or chicken, browning changes the flavor profile of a food in a way that most of us find delicious.
Why, you may ask, do we not get the same trans-formative qualities from steaming or boiling that we do from grilling and roasting? The answer lies in the presence of water (or lack thereof.) No matter how high you crank up your burners, water’s temperature will max out at around 212 degrees, after that it is transformed into steam. In order for the Maillard Reaction to occur you need to have amino acids (protein) a reducing sugar (like glucose) and temperatures over 250 degrees. Therefore, in the presence of lots of water, no browning will occur.
I bought these baby broccoli on sale at Whole Foods, broccoli, regular broccoli, or even Brussels sprouts, would work well in this recipe. The broccoli is divided and cooked two ways, quickly blanked for the pesto, and roasted at high temps till lightly browned to form the bulk of the salad. The salad is filled out by cooked grains, you can use any whole grain, wild rice, red quinoa, wheat berries, and bulgur will all be nice here, from a visual perspective adding some varied color into the dish may add some sex appeal to this homely looking side dish. I saved the broccoli cooking liquid (from blanching) and used it to cook the grains, not only does this save on water, but it allows some preservation of vitamins and flavor that leeched into the water during the blanching process. This dish pairs well with a lean protein such as roasted chicken, tofu, or pork for a healthy dinner or can be served as a dish of its own on top of some arugula with additional nuts and some crumbled tempeh.
Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto — slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks
3 C Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Bulghur, Quinoa, and Wheat Berries)
2 Large Heads Broccoli, Stems Chopped, and Tops Cut into Florets
3 Medium Cloved Garlic, Smashed
2/3 C Toasted Almonds
1/3 C Freshly Grated Parmesan
Pinch of Aleppo Pepper Flakes
2 T Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (optional – zest of 1 lemon)
1/4 C Olive Oil
1/4 C Heavy Cream
Heat oven to 455 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a low boil.
Divide broccoli in half, toss half in a very light covering of olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast until just browned, flipping half way through. Remove from the hot pan and place on a plate in a single layer to cool.
Place other half of the broccoli in the lightly boiling water for just a minute until just brightened, you don’t want these to be “cooked” we should just take the raw off of the veggies.
Cook grains in batches in the broccoli water according to cooking directions.
Place garlic and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times until “minced.”
Remove broccoli from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain fully in a colander. Add broccoli, Aleppo, lemon juice (and zest if using) several turns of freshly cracked pepper, and Parmesean in the processor and pulse again until small chunks appear (should not be a paste.) Add olive oil and heavy cream and process until it appears emulsified.
Place grains and roasted broccoli in a large bowl and toss. Add some of the pesto and toss until well incorporated. Add remaining pesto as desired and reserve any remainder for another use. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!