February 28, 2012

Broccoli with Béchamel

Well, friends, it's been a while. We hope you haven't missed us too much. Don't worry, we've been cooking and eating plenty, but somehow the end of January and most of February slipped by without a post here. But we were inspired by a simple and tasty dish to get the camera back out and hold off a few minutes before devouring it in order to take a few pictures.

This dish has the odd pedigree of being inspired by a restaurant dish that we didn't actually eat. We had dinner at our neighborhood Italian place and noticed that they were serving a steak with a side of broccoli with béchamel. We were more in the mood for pasta so we went that route, but the idea of broccoli served with a simple, creamy white sauce stuck with us, and we just had to try it.

I typically think of béchamel as a vehicle for cheese, since one of the first dishes that I learned how to make from my mother was macaroni and cheese. Her version involved making a béchamel with flour, butter, and milk, then loading it up with tasty cheeses before pouring it over noodles. We frequently make this simple sauce in slightly gussies up versions of that pasta dish. But we almost never eat it just plain. But you know what? It's really good that way, especially when add a pinch of nutmeg, pour it over roast broccoli, and put the whole thing under the broiler so that the sauce puffs up and browns. The sauce dresses up the broccoli a little bit without overpowering the nice roasted flavor. This would be a good side dish, but could also be a main course served with some pasta or farro.

Broccoli with Béchamel (serves 4)

- 2 medium heads of broccoli
- olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 and 1/2 cups of milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Cut the broccoli heads into smallish florets, and chop the stem into bite-sized pieces.

In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper. Spread the broccoli over the baking sheet, being careful not to place the florets too close together or they will not brown nicely when they roast. Put them in the oven and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until they're just tender and browned.

While the broccoli is roasting, make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour and stir well. Add the nutmeg and let the mixture bubble together for a minute. 

Pour in the milk and whisk it vigorously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the broccoli from the oven and turn the broiler on to high. Pour the broccoli into a casserole dish, then pour the béchamel over the broccoli and sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Put the dish under the broiler until the béchamel is nicely browned on top (5-8 minutes, depending on your broiler).


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