Sicilian Drowned Broccoli

I do have a lot more posts about Paris to share with you, but before I do, I need to tell you about this broccoli. And no, contrary to what you may believe, I am not on the FX Cuisine payroll to tell you how incredible the recipes from that site are.

I think Alex is aware of the fact that he’s pretty spoiled.

He’s a 23-year old guy with no culinary experience beyond frying a pork chop, frying a steak, frying an egg, frying a burger… and boiling water for pasta and rice (although he did a pretty good job on his own while I was frolicking about Paris with my aunt for a week). I’m no gourmet chef, but I like to think I’ve learned enough over the past three years to make food that’s at least decent, if not mind-blowing (full credit for the mind-blowing meatballs happily awarded to FX Cuisine). At least the meals vary from day to day and are definitely not fried meat and plain boiled rice: I love cooking, and I love creating meals that are different and exciting.

Food should be fun. But you all know that, otherwise you wouldn’t still be here.

As one of my friends said to him recently when I had a few of them over for dinner: “You eat like this every day?”

However, I do, on a regular basis, receive two complaints: the first has moved from complaint to plain habit… when I bring dinner out to the table, I also bring the large container of salt I use for cooking. My food is seasoned, but I’m very sensitive to salt, and I don’t like a lot of it in my food. I add more cayenne and Tabasco to my food as I please, and I look the other way as Alex salts as much as he likes.

The other is something we’ll never resolve: “C’est bon… mais les légumes ne sont pas assez cuits.” It’s good… but the vegetables aren’t cooked enough.

If you’ve ever received a side of haricots verts with your poulet rôti in Paris (for those of you who have yet to visit my city, please consider canned green beans as an appropriate substitute for this illustration), you understand what is expected of vegetables here. They are cooked beyond recognition, until a bright green bean becomes something pallid and soft, hardly necessary to chew: they dissolve.

I hover over my pots of green beans, waiting for that perfect moment when they turn bright green, and then I quickly drain them and run them under cold water. My beans have snap to them… something that I guess is not appreciated over here.

I’m aware of it, and I honestly try to cook them to everyone else’s liking: I know that not everyone can snack on green beans raw out of the container. In Paziols this summer, I tried in vain to cook the green beans to an appropriate doneness, but while I thought they were overcooked, the French among us still found them unpleasantly crunchy.

I have the same problem with broccoli, but I thought that this recipe would change that. Broccoli cooked in red wine and topped with melted comté cheese (I had to substitute the pecorino with what I had) should have pleased both of us, but in the end, I finished off most of the broccoli, which had retained quite a bit of crunch… pas assez cuit.
And no matter how many times you ask me, I swear I didn’t do it on purpose so that I would be left with an entire bowl of broccoli to finish on my own.

I do love my vegetables.

Pasta with Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Broccoli and Feta

It seems like everyone out there in the food blogging world is trying to make the best of their last few tomatoes. Mine are no longer good for just eating with oil, salt and basil like I usually do, and to be frank, the weather doesn’t much make me want to do that anyway.

However, when I saw this recipe for Oven-Dried Tomatoes in oil via one of my favorite foodie blogs, I knew that that was where the last of my summer cherry tomatoes were going. The recipe calls for all sorts of tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes were what I had, so that’s what I used. I also didn’t cut them in half… the recipe didn’t seem too clear on that, so I made an executive decision.

The scent of the tomatoes cooking in the house was overwhelming… so overwhelming, in fact, that I didn’t remember until two hours later (yeah, I just kept mine in there. Might have to do with the not cutting thing.) that I don’t actually like sundried tomatoes. At all. What was I thinking? I stuck them in a bowl, unceremoniously poured some oil over them, and stuck them in the fridge.

I had no idea what I was planning on doing with them until, for some reason, the combination of broccoli, feta and sundried tomatoes came to mind. I’m sure I’ve seen it on a menu somewhere, I don’t remember where, but since I always have multiple kinds of cheese and a ton of frozen veggies hanging around, I threw this meal together for lunch.

It was incredible.

And this coming from someone who usually picks sundried tomatoes out of a dish. The combination of the tomato-infused oil, the feta melting over the hot pasta, and the bright green of the broccoli made this an outstanding and filling lunch. If you don’t have tomatoes to roast your own, I suppose you could use storebought sundried, but I’m heading out to buy the slightly less-than-perfect but still not orange winter tomatoes to make a whole jar of this stuff to eat during the winter.

Pasta with Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Broccoli and Feta

 ½ cup uncooked macaroni
1 cup frozen broccoli florets
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (I used the bulb of a spring onion because I had it lying around, but a small yellow onion would be fine)
12-15 cherry tomatoes from the Oven-Dried Tomato in oil recipe
1 tbsp. feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 tsp. dried basil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni until al dente. Add the broccoli for the last two minutes of cooking. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent and sweet, 3-4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the cherry tomatoes and 1-2 tsp. of the oil and stir to heat through.

Add the macaroni, broccoli, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Add about two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water if the macaroni seems dry. Add more if necessary.

Place the pasta on a plate and crumble the feta over the top while the pasta is still hot.

Seriously Un-Gourmet

Just in case some of you out there think I make myself crazy meals every night… I decided to share a secret. I have a foodie vice: frozen veggies.

My freezer is absolutely stocked chock full of frozen vegetables. At any one time, I could have peas, green beans, spinach and broccoli, and roomie has just thrown frozen Brussels sprouts into the mix. Many evenings, when I’m too tired to do anything else, I grab anything green, toss it with pasta and add pesto sauce. Instant dinner. More often than not, I snack on frozen veggies on their own or topped with tons of black pepper.

And then, of course, it gets worse.

In high school, one of the ways I survived on dining hall food was to take raw broccoli from the salad bar, top it with orange grated cheese, and nuke it in the microwave. It was one of my favorite foods, and I ate it for more lunches and dinners than I care to admit.

In Paris, we don’t have grated orange cheese… we go one better: there is a French version of American cheese. They call it a cheddar-emmental mix, but I know better: it’s square, it’s shiny, and when it’s raw, it tastes like plastic. But when it’s melted over a bowl of frozen broccoli and topped with black pepper and a tiny bit of grated emmental (hey… it was in the fridge, and I don’t discriminate when it comes to melty, cheesy goodness)… it’s heaven. And it was my lunch twice this weekend.

So you see? No one’s perfect.