Cuisine minceur burst on the scene in the mid-1970s, developed by French chefs seeking an alternative to the post-prandial food coma. This uber-light style of cooking, embodying “less is more,” relegated butter- and cream- laden dishes to the back burner. Chefs pared ingredients down to the bare essentials and reduced the volume of food plated at the same time, leading to the visual joke of a small rainbow of tiny vegetables plus a shrimp nearly lost on an enormous white plate. We loved it. Tom Wolfe’s social X-rays could easily maintain their skeletal physiques. We paid more and more money for less and less food, thinking we were oh so wise.
But were those big empty plates healthy, or were they the emperor’s new clothes? As a Paleo groupie, someone who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s who developed a healthy fear of fat and who has subsequently seen the light, I believe that these French chefs meant well but could have done us a great disservice, both from a health and gustatory perspective. Fat is turning out to be somewhat benign, if not downright healthy (not counting trans-fats, which should be avoided all the time except when you really really NEED that pink frosting rose on your birthday cake), whereas sugars and processed starches may be a lot worse than we originally thought. Fat helps you absorb the nutrients that are locked up in those pretty vegetables on your big white plate. Fat fills you up so you are satisfied and don’t go looking for that flourless chocolate cake that the same cuisine minceur chefs loved so much.
Fat also makes those vegetables taste pretty amazing. It’s not just putting butter on your spinach: think salad dressing, nuts in the stir fry, or brussels sprouts roasted in bacon fat sprinkled with parmesan cheese and truffle oil (a personal favorite). I love vegetables in their pristine state, straight from the fridge, but there’s something about a prepared vegetable dish–hot or cold–that elevates it from sustenance for the body to sustenance for the spirit.
So I cook a lot of vegetables. Yeah. Got that. But as I wrote earlier, I’m a child of the modern era, so again, I’ve been taught that overcooking things, especially green things, to the point where they begin to NOT be green is bad. Roasted veggies are okay toasty brown in spots because they are caramelized; when their color pigmentation breaks down from prolonged exposure to heat, it’s another matter altogether. As an example, imagine a freshly steamed green bean next to one out of a can. Get the picture?
Because my views about food and life in general have changed so much, though, I must have been receptive when I read about Olive Oil Poached Broccoli a few weeks ago. Poaching? Check. Broccoli? Check. Olive oil? Check. But all three together? Cooking broccoli for hours, until it turns a khaki green, in nothing but olive oil? It sounded impossible but intriguing, especially because the recipe included anchovies which are ALWAYS good with green things (caesar salad, on pizza with green olives and jalapenos, etc.)
Oh. My. God. This stuff was amazing. It melted in your mouth. You could spread it across your tongue like butter or swipe some on a piece of meat or (best of all) melt some manchego cheese on top and eat it straight from the pot. It DOES contain a lot of oil, and yes, you will wind up eating the oil. Not all of it drains off. But I promise you, it will be some of the best broccoli you’ve ever tasted. It cooks at a low enough heat that the oil doesn’t break down, so you don’t have to worry about oxidative damage. And you will be a happy, happy camper, full from the fat and replete with the knowledge that you just ate something that tasted as good as any other fatty food but was a million times healthier.
Olive Oil Poached Broccoli
2 bunches broccoli, stems peeled and sliced and heads separated into florets
1 c. olive oil (I used a good quality one, since there’s so much of it)
3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 anchovy fillets, chopped or 2-3 tsp. anchovy paste
salt and black pepper to taste
Boil a large pot of salted water and blanch the broccoli. Rinse under cold running water and drain.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic. When it becomes fragrant, add the red pepper and anchovies (if you are using chopped anchovies, they will melt into the oil!). Stir until the mixture is uniform and then dump in the broccoli and season with a little salt and pepper.
Give the broccoli a good stir, cover the skillet, and turn the heat down to very low. Cook the broccoli for two house, stirring occasionally. The recipe specified gentle stirring so the broccoli stayed together. I found that no matter how gently I stirred, the florets pretty much dissolved while the stems stayed intact. The broccoli will look like my mother cooked it–a dull green and maybe not so appetizing. Don’t worry.
Remove the broccoli from the skillet with a slotted spoon (there will be a decent amount of oil left behind) and serve it warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!