Roast broccoli for crunchy goodness

Crispy Parmesan Smashed Broccoli
(For The Washington Post/Tom McCorkle)
Crispy Parmesan Smashed Broccoli (For The Washington Post/Tom McCorkle)

Whenever there are random bits of crisped cheese lingering on a baking dish or sheet pan, chances are you'll find me hovering over it, picking it clean of the irresistibly crunchy pieces. I can never seem to get enough of them, which is why I find this recipe -- which provides an entire pan full -- so enticing. In it, mounds of grated parmesan cheese are baked to form crunchy golden disks beneath tender, lightly smashed broccoli florets. The cheese acts as a savory platform for each piece of broccoli, staying a bit pliable where it touches the vegetable, and forming a deep brown, crunchy matrix around it.

The parmesan layer is essentially a type of Italian frico, typically served as an appetizer or snack, where mounds of grated cheese are baked or cooked in a skillet until they become cracker-like crisps. After drooling over several social media videos which employed frico as a base layer for different vegetables, such as potatoes, sliced squash or Brussels sprouts, I couldn't resist giving it a whirl with broccoli. As you can see from this recipe, it is a simple way to elevate the vegetable to a wow-inspiring side dish.

The broccoli is blanched first, until it is just tender but still bright green, which takes just a couple of minutes. Then it's patted dry -- an important step so excess moisture doesn't interfere with the cheese crisping up later. You can cook the broccoli ahead and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, but in that case I suggest plunging it into an ice bath after draining it to stop the cooking. You could also substitute frozen, thawed broccoli florets, or use a different vegetable such as cauliflower.

Then you place small mounds of grated parmesan cheese onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, put a piece of broccoli on top of each, and use the bottom of a glass to smash the broccoli a bit, flattening it somewhat into the cheese. After a brushing of olive oil, and sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper, it goes into the oven. (No salt is needed because the cheese adds enough saltiness.)

After just about 8 minutes the cheese becomes brown and crisp, like a halo around each broccoli floret. A 10-minute rest in the pan allows it to crisp further and makes each one easy to scoop up from the pan with a spatula. It's a side dish that goes well with just about any roasted protein, and is a treasure for crispy cheese lovers -- providing plenty of crunchy, golden, savory-ness for everyone at the table.

Crispy Parmesan Smashed Broccoli

1 medium head broccoli crowns (8 ounces) cut into 2-inch florets (about 12 florets)

2 ounces grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cook until bright green and just fork tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Place a little mound of parmesan (a scant tablespoon) onto the parchment. Put a piece of the broccoli on top of the cheese, then use the bottom of a glass to press it down, crushing the broccoli to flatten it a bit into the cheese. Repeat with the remaining cheese and broccoli.

Brush the top of each piece of broccoli with the oil and sprinkle with the garlic powder and pepper.

Transfer to the oven and roast for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and crisped around the broccoli (it will still be a bit soft under the florets). Remove from the oven and let rest on the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. It will crisp further as it cools. Use a metal spatula to transfer each piece to plates (3 pieces per serving) and serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

  photo  Use the bottom of a glass canning jar to smash the broccoli for Crispy Parmesan Smashed Broccoli (For The Washington Post/Tom McCorkle)

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