One of things that most fascinates me about cooking is how a very slight change in technique, even using the same ingredients, will produce a very different end result. We’ve already explored on this blog the ripassare technique, perhaps the most common in central and southern Italian vegetable cookery, in which parboiled vegetables are then sautéed in garlic-infused oil. The result is a rather soft and mellow vegetable that readily absorbs the taste of its cooking medium. Today we will take a look at a technique (strascinati, literally “dragged”) where you simply skip the initial parboiling and sauté the vegetable—typically, broccoli—resulting in a much firmer texture and ‘nuttier’ more intense flavor. This technique, typical of Rome, though perhaps not the prettiest way to make broccoli, it is one of the tastiest.
Serves 4-6 as a contorno or side dish
- 1 head of broccoli
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Water or white wine
- Peperoncino, to taste
Trim and cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces, cutting off the flowerets first and then cutting the larger ones in half or quarters.
In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the broccoli, sauté the garlic gently in a generous amount of oil, along with the peperoncino if using. When the garlic has turned a very light brown, remove it.
Add the broccoli pieces, turn them so they are entirely covered in the seasoned oil, seasoning well as you turn. Cover the pan and let the broccoli simmer until tender, turning from time to time—not too often or too vigorously, or you will smash the broccoli as it begins to get tender. The natural liquid of the broccoli will ‘steam’ the vegetable, but if things look dry, add a bit of water or white wine from time to time.
When the broccoli is tender, check and adjust for seasoning. Serve immediately.
Ana Boni, the doyenne of Roman cookery, calls this dish broccolo a crudo alla romana, ‘crudo’ meaning raw, referring to the fact that you don’t parboil the vegetable first in the usual way. The dish She recommends serving the broccoli on a bed of carrot sticks, either as a side course or a vegetarian main course.
Although I’ve never tried it, I have to imagine that other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli rabe or the new-fangled broccolini would do very well here. Perhaps even Brussels sprouts?
For those who don’t like spicy food, you can omit the peperoncino, although it is typical. And if you can’t find peperoncino, red pepper flakes will do; just be sure to add them just before you add the broccoli so they don’t burn.