2010 April: Broccoli? Are You Serious?

Oh, what a wonderful addition broccoli can be to our pizza and pasta menu. Over the years, the vegetable hasn’t gotten the accolades it deserves for a variety of reasons. But, when handled and cooked properly, broccoli can add great vibrance, texture and flavor to any dish.

I like to cut most of the stem off during prep, leaving the florets to be cut into small pieces for both my pizza and pasta dishes. I then blanch the florets by dipping them into salted, boiling water for about 60 seconds — then I plunge them into an ice bath or quickly rinse under cold water to immediately stop the cooking process. The salt serves two purposes: it enhances the natural flavor and, more importantly, preserves the broccoli’s bright green color.

Don’t panic about being wasteful in regards to cutting off the stem. You can buy broccoli crowns where the stems have already been removed, though they generally cost a little bit more. If you buy the whole broccoli, you can shred the stems up to make broccoli slaw (use them to replace the cabbage) to be used as a side dish with your sandwiches.

There is an alternative to cutting, blanching and cooling fresh broccoli, and this is to buy frozen broccoli florets. If you thaw them under refrigeration, they are ready to be used on both pizza and in your pasta dishes. It’s especially important to squeeze any excess water out of the broccoli before you use it on pizza.

Now that we’ve got the preparation down and our broccoli ready to use, let me give you a few ideas on how to implement it on your menu. Let’s start with pizza! Simply adding it as a vegetable topping is a great start, but creating a “Chicken Broccoli Alfredo Pizza” is exciting and different for your guests. If you already have Alfredo sauce made and in a steam table for pasta, I’d advise you to use that on your pizza along with broccoli, diced chicken and your pizza cheese. It’s very simple, yet it’s a fantastic pizza that brings a gourmet fl air to the menu. If you are not using Alfredo or keep it cold, no problem. Applying it to your dough cold is just the same as regular pizza sauce.

Now think about what people love with their broccoli, and bring those items to life on your pizza. We all know how kids love their broccoli — drenched with cheddar cheese. So why not create a broccoli and cheddar pizza pie? Oh, sure, you can add your other favorite toppings to it or let your customers choose. I love the idea of topping a pizza like that with some of those crispy fried onions that you use on a green bean casserole once the pizza comes out of the oven.

But let’s get back to Alfredo. If you’re going to add it to the menu for pizza, why not make it a sauce option for pasta dishes as well? When I bought Jeffrey’s Pizza back in 1998, I boasted a “Jeffrey’s has gone gourmet” campaign. And by simply adding Alfredo sauce as an option, I was able to create a few new pizzas and pasta dishes. Broccoli and a nice creamy Alfredo sauce just go hand in hand so well. Broccoli and chicken Alfredo make a perfect pasta dish, and by adding some other nice garden veggies like zucchini, spinach, tomatoes and olives, you’ve got a nice creamy primavera dish.

As you can tell, I love my broccoli in a creamy concoction like many others. It can certainly hold its own in a nice zesty tomato sauce, or chopped and tossed with a fresh pesto sauce.

If you cook your broccoli in some veggie stock with cream, garlic and black pepper, and then thicken it with a little roux and mix in some cheddar cheese, you’ll have created a wonderful broccoli cheddar soup that may sell out before the end of a busy lunch. Try the recipe below –– I’m sure it will be a great success! ?

Mediterranean Broccoli Pesto Pie

12-inch pizza dough 3 ounces pesto (without pine nuts)
6 ounces blanched broccoli florets
2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips
2 ounces Kalamata olives
3 ounces marinated artichoke hearts
1 ounce chopped fresh garlic
3 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
6 ounces shredded mozzarella

Spread the pesto over the dough and layer all the ingredients, then bake as you do any other pizza. Not only is this pizza super delicious, it’s also visually gorgeous as well!

Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert and a frequent speaker at the family of Pizza Expo tradeshows.

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