Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

Fall is finally here!  Nights in San Diego, California are cooling down, and I’m finally pulling my beloved sweaters out of the attic.  It’s time for some warm comfort foods.

This week’s featured ingredient is broccoli from our local Farmers’ Market.

Broccoli is believed to have evolved from a wild cabbage in the Mediterranean.  Broccoli was highly prized by the ancient Romans, who enjoyed preparing it with creamy sauces, or olive oil and herbs.  Legend has it that an emperor’s son, Drusius, loved broccoli so much that for an entire month he gorged himself solely on broccoli.  It was only when his urine turned bright green, that he decided it was time to cut back on his obsession.  Broccoli is said to have been introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants, but didn’t gain popularity here until the 1920s. 1

A head of broccoli is essentially a bouquet of edible flowers.  It is high in vitamin C and fiber, and a source of vitamin A.  Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, high in glucosinolates, which studies suggest have anti-cancer properties.  Steaming broccoli for ~3 minutes, as well as thorough chewing, is believed to make nutrients more bioavailable. 2

This weeks recipe is steamed broccoli florets with a creamy cheese sauce to dip them in, adapted from Cook’s Country Magazine February/March 2011 recipe.  Children typically like finger foods and simple, mild flavors.  When vegetables, like broccoli, are cut into dipable bites, eating them can be fun for kids instead of a chore.

Making a creamy, smooth cheese sauce is easy when one understands its science.  Fat helps keep the sauce from separating (a.k.a. curdling), which is why this recipe calls for half & half (thinned with a little water) and full fat cheeses.  The sauce is thickened by roux, made when flour is cooked in butter, as well as a generous amount of cheese.  Cheddar cheese gives the sauce wonderful flavor, while Monterey Jack is added to smooth cheddar’s gritty texture.  (The younger the cheese, the higher the water content, and the smoother the texture of the sauce.)  The cheese is finely grated, room temperature, and added off the heat source to prevent it from boiling and becoming tough and stringy.  Pre-grated cheeses are dryer, and melt less readily in a sauce.  Sprinkling the grated cheese with an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, also prevents the cheese from becoming stringy once in the sauce. 3, 4

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

Preparation Time:  30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

2 pounds broccoli, cut into bite sized florets
1 Tablespoon butter
4 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup water
1 cup half & half
2/3 cup Monterey Jack, freshly shredded fine & room temperature
2/3 cup cheddar cheese, freshly shredded fine & room temperature
salt and white pepper to taste
optional: 1/2 tsp dijon or yellow mustard

Equipment:

cutting board
knife
grater
measuring cups
measuring spoons
steamer pot
medium metal sauce pan
whisk

Directions:

1.  Fill steamer pot with 1-2 inches of water, and bring to boil over medium-high heat.

2.  Add broccoli to steamer pot and steam until vibrant green and fork tender.  Set aside, uncovered.

3.  Meanwhile, melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.

4.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden and fragrant, about 1 minute.

5.  Slowly whisk in water, and simmer  until it begins to thicken.

6.  Whisk in half & half, and return to simmer.

6.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, for approximately 1 minute.

7.  Off heat, whisk in Monterey Jack and cheddar, until smooth.  If the cheese doesn’t seem to be melting, return the pan to very low heat, but watch it carefully and remove as soon as the cheese is melted.

8.  Season to taste with salt, white pepper.  Optional: Add mustard to taste.

9.  Serve broccoli with bowl of cheese sauce.  Check to make sure they are warm, but not burning hot.

10.  Enjoy!

References

1.  http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/broccolihistory.htm

2.  http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/foods/cruciferous/index.html

3.  http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/cheese-sauce-made-easy/detail.aspx

4.  http://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/Broccoli-with-Cheese-Sauce/27326/?extcode=M00KSCR00

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