Broccoli, bacon in 2008: It's all good

December 26, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Broccoli is good for you. Bacon tastes good.

Recently, as I struggled with my usual resolution to become a better person in the new year, I whipped up a dish that combined both ingredients.

Nutritionally speaking, broccoli has a lot going for it. It is loaded with vitamins A, C and K. It has good folate and manganese levels. Also, it packs those powerful phytonutrients, sulforaphane and indoles. This duo, according to information I read on a Web site called the World's Healthiest Foods, boosts the body's "detoxification enzymes." Anything that boosts detoxification, especially at this time of year, gets my attention.

The trouble is that broccoli is boring. On the flavor front, it needs help. I also have found that cooking broccoli can be frustrating. The florets, or tops of the broccoli, always cooked much faster than the vegetable's thick stems. If I kept the heat on until the stems were done, the florets would end up limp and overcooked.

So recently, when I spied a recipe that called for covering broccoli in a bacon-infused vinaigrette, I perked up. Then, when I saw that the cookbook Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 2 also had a tip on how to handle those woody stems, I knew I would give this recipe a try.

The tip was that instead of cooking the stems whole, you cut them into slices 1/4 -inch thick. This makes them about the same size as the florets, so they cook at about the same rate.

It was so simple I wondered why I had not thought of it sooner. Probably because my folate levels were low from not eating enough broccoli.

The first step in this recipe was a good one, cooking bacon in the bottom of a pan. In my book, it is hard to go wrong when you begin with bacon. I doubt that it qualifies as one of the world's healthiest foods, but it is certainly one of the world's best-smelling foods.

I also liked the second step, saving the bacon grease and cooking a minced shallot in it. Again, this procedure probably does not win phytonutrient points, but it sure improves flavor.

There was a pleasing sizzle in the pan when I tossed in some balsamic vinegar. The addition of lemon juice and Dijon mustard provided a burst of more aromatic pleasure. My road to renewal was smelling good.

Slicing the stems into 1/4 -inch-thick rounds was surprisingly pleasing work. It reminded me of sawing wood. The broccoli stems and florets were supposed to be steamed. So I put about an inch of water in the bottom of a big pot, then put a steamer insert - I used a metal sieve - in the pot. I tossed the broccoli pieces and a little salt in the insert, put the lid on the pot and let nature take its steamy course, for about three minutes.

When they emerged from the pot, the bright-green broccoli pieces appeared to still be a little woody, but they continued cooking and softened after they were removed from the heat.

I took a bite of the steamed broccoli. Boring. Boring. Boring.

Then I put some on a plate, doused it with the vinaigrette sauce and sprinkled on the crumbled bits of bacon. Wow! What a difference. Broccoli, at least this version of it, quickly became one of my favorite side dishes. I could eat it on New Year's Eve and perhaps once a week thereafter. My meals in the New Year were looking greener, and sprinkled with bacon bits.

Broccoli With Balsamic-Bacon Vinaigrette Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

2 strips bacon, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1 small shallot, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (divided use)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 1/4 pounds broccoli, tops cut into 1-inch florets, stems sliced 1/4 inch thick

Make the sauce: In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally until crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a dish lined with paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add the shallot to the bacon fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and scrape with a spoon to dissolve brown bits stuck to the pan. Off the heat, stir in the remaining vinegar, the lemon juice and mustard. Gradually whisk in the oil (don't worry if the sauce doesn't emulsify). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the broccoli: Bring an inch or so of water to a boil in a pot fitted with a steamer insert. Put the broccoli in the steamer; sprinkle with salt, cover tightly and steam until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

The broccoli should be neither crisp nor soft, but exactly in between. To check, bite into a piece you quickly run under cold water, being careful not to burn your tongue. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Briefly reheat the sauce if necessary. Drizzle over the steamed broccoli, sprinkle with the bacon bits and serve.

From "Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 2"

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 104 calories, 4 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 6 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 77 milligrams sodium

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