Sunday, November 13, 2011

Broccoli with Gremolata Bread Crumbs

Thanksgiving is here, which means dinner at my younger sister's home. I have four sisters, and all but one (she lives in Houston) will be there, along with my 98 year old father, and my daughter, who will be coming home for the weekend. Though we are a thoroughly Italian family, our Thanksgiving meal is very traditional and quite American, so no pasta that day. I consider all of my sisters and myself to be good cooks, so everything is made from scratch. My sister (the hostess) makes the turkey (always fresh) and handles all the details, like beverages and appetizers, but the rest of us handle the majority of the side dishes and desserts. My charge is always the pumpkin pies and sometimes the green vegetable for the day.

With so many rich foods on the menu  I prefer to keep the green veggie that day relatively simple, so no dishes with a buttery rich sauce or creamy-cheesy base. But, I can't seem to settle for just plain veggies either. To dress them up a bit I like to top them with a flavorful gremolata bread crumb topping. For those unfamiliar with the term 'gremolata', it is an Italian condiment typically made of minced lemon zest, garlic and parsley traditionally served with veal, Osso Buco in particular, or other meats. I add breadcrumbs and a few finely chopped walnuts to make it a more suitable compliment for vegetables. The parsley and lemon zest add a wonderful fresh taste to the veggies, and the bread crumbs and walnuts lend a crispy crunch; all a nice contrast to the many creamy, soft foods on the menu that day.

Gremolata is best when made with freshly made bread crumbs, and though it goes without saying, fresh, not dried, parsley. Any good artisan-style bread, white, wheat or multi-grain, will do. Just pulse a few slices a few seconds in a food processor and then bake the coarse crumbs in a 250 degree oven, till they are dry but not brown, about 15 minutes or so. They can be made a day or two ahead, and stored in a glass jar to prevent the crumbs from picking up flavors or odors from other foods in the refrigerator.

For this blog post I have prepared just a small amount, enough for 4 generous side servings. By all means, double, triple or quadruple the amounts to fit your needs. And, feel free to change the proportions-a little more parsley, lighter on the nuts, etc. Gremolata has many, many interpretations and I've noticed it is featured frequently in many holiday food magazines.  I can't emphasize enough what this simple, easy to make topping adds to any vegetable. It adds a delicious flourish and is an easy way to dress up a dish for a holiday buffet appearance.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Broccoli w/ Gremolata Bread Crumbs

1 bunch broccoli, trimmed, and cut into bite size pieces
2 T. olive oil
12 c. dry, fresh bread crumbs
2 small or 1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
1/4 c. finely chopped walnuts, toasted in saute pan
2 tsp. lemon zest, finely minced
salt to season the vegetables

Prepare the broccoli:
Steam for 4 minutes till tender, but not soft or mushy.  Remove broccoli from steamer and put into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, and some salt and mix together.

Prepare the Gremolata:
In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for just a minute to soften and flavor the oil. 

Add the breadcrumbs and saute till  well coated and crispy but not brown. 

Remove from heat and add the walnuts, parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Mix well together and let sit for at least 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend. 

Plate the prepared broccoli and generously sprinkle the gremolata over the top, and serve.


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