Got broccoli? Don't toss the stalks

Broccoli stalks are as down-to-party as florets, even if they are not treated as such

By Emma Laperruque
Published July 16, 2021 1:52PM (EDT)
Prop stylist: Olivia Bloch. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Ty Mecham / Food52)
Prop stylist: Olivia Bloch. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Ty Mecham / Food52)

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Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer — not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we're coming out with a cookbook? We're coming out with a cookbook!

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Raise your hand if you've ever thrown away a broccoli stalk. Go on. No one's looking.

Nowadays, this part of the vegetable is often seen as a scrap. Look no further than the supermarket, where the produce aisle boasts broccoli crowns and microwaveable bags of florets, as if the stalks are an inconvenience.

They are not. In fact, they used to be the whole shebang. As Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas put it in "The Cambridge World History of Food," "Like all cabbages, broccoli was originally eaten for its stems, with the flowering heads a later development."

Indeed, broccoli stalks are as down-to-party as florets, even if they are not treated as such. After their fibrous outer layer is trimmed and tossed, they can be sizzled with anchovies and garlic. Or tossed with feta and raisins. Or, as we're doing today, put toward a superlative broccoli pasta salad that is more broccoli than pasta.

This, I've found, is the secret to any pasta salad good enough to bring to a picnic and later get a text from a friend asking for the recipe: The pasta must be self-assured enough to stand back and let the mix-ins steal the show, like Katy Perry and Left Shark at the 2015 Super Bowl.

Usually this show-stealing happens with respect to quantity. Take, for example, this Genius pasta salad from Cook's Illustrated. There is pasta, and then there is arugula, basil, tomatoes, olives, salami, mozzarella, pepperoncini, and a caper-chile-anchovy dressing. The pasta is outnumbered. And it's all good with that.

But quantity can come into play in another way. In this recipe, beyond the pasta, you need only three other ingredients: broccoli, chives, and Pepper Jack (plus Big Little staples oil and salt). But the amount of broccoli is — how do I put this? — audacious. You start with half a pound of bow ties, then invite four times the amount of broccoli.

The stalks are shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, or sliced and diced with a knife, dealer's choice. Some florets take a dip in boiling water, where they become buttery and savory. The rest are tossed with oil and salt, then chucked into an aggressive oven, where, eventually, they resemble potato chips more than anything else.

Tossed with a glowy-neon chive oil and unshy amount of cheese, the result is a broccoli pasta salad to write home about. Or maybe it should be called a pasta broccoli salad? Not that such a technicality matters when you're sitting in a park, drinking wine in the afternoon sun.

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Recipe: Triple-Broccoli Pasta Salad

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Serves: 3 to 6

Ingredients

Chive Oil

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 ounces chives
  • 3/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed

Broccoli Pasta Salad

  • 2 pounds broccoli
  • Kosher salt
  • Neutral oil, such as grapeseed
  • 8 ounces bow-tie pasta (aka farfalle)
  • 4 ounces Pepper Jack (or Monterey Jack), cubed

Directions

  1. Turn on the oven to 425°F. Set a large pot of water over high heat to come to a boil. 
  2. When the water is boiling, generously season it with salt. Add the chives and blanch for 15 seconds (this helps preserve their awesome color). Use a spider to transfer to a towel and dry as well as you can. (You can lower or turn off the heat at this point, but leave the pot of water where it is — we're using it again soon.) 
  3. Add the blanched, dried chives to a blender with the oil. Blend until the mixture is smooth as can be and bright green, scraping down as needed; this will take a couple minutes, depending on your blender, so be patient. 
  4. Pour the chive oil into a strainer set over a glass and let it leisurely strain while you work on the rest of the pasta salad. 
  5. Use a knife to remove the tough outer layer of the broccoli stalks. Now use the knife to halve the broccoli heads crosswise, separating the stalk-y bottoms from the floret-y tops. 
  6. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into ribbons; any stragglers you can't get with the peeler can be thinly sliced with a knife. (Alternatively, you can skip the peeler and finely chop with a knife.) Add these pieces to a big bowl and sprinkle with salt. 
  7. Use a knife to cut the rest of the broccoli into florets. Add half of these florets to a rimmed sheet pan. Generously drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss with your hands. Roast for about 25 minutes, until crispy and browned. 
  8. Meanwhile, bring the water back to a boil and add the remaining broccoli florets. Blanch for 1 to 2 minutes, until barely tender and bright green, then use a spider to transfer to a sheet pan where the broccoli can spread out and cool. 
  9. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 2 minutes past al dente (just trust — or learn more about this trick in the headnote). When the pasta is totally tender, strain into a colander in the sink and immediately shock with cold water until it's cool. Pat dry. 
  10. Turn your attention back to the chive oil. The strainer should contain a green chive mush — add this to the bowl with the broccoli stalks. 
  11. Now add the pasta to the bowl, plus 1/4 cup of the strained chive oil. (There will be about 1/2 cup of leftover chive oil. You're welcome! Store in the fridge for about 1 week and drizzle on everything.) Toss until the pasta is coated. 
  12. Add the blanched broccoli and cheese cubes to the pasta and toss again. Season with salt to taste and add more chive oil if you'd like. Add the roasted broccoli on top and give a meager toss so some gets incorporated but most stays on top. If you have chive blossoms around, sprinkle those on top.

Emma Laperruque

MORE FROM Emma Laperruque


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