That is to say broccilini is not baby broccoli, as it is often called in the US. While broccoli and gai lan, originally from the northern Mediterranean and southern China respectively, have been cultivated in human history for a long time, broccolini was created in the 90’s in the US, after 8 years of research and development.
The result is a new vegetable that has thin stems just like gai lan, with fewer leaves, and has smaller florets as compared to broccoli. The flavor of broccolini is reminiscent of both broccoli and gai lan, but is more complex and nuanced.
The entire vegetable can be used for cooking. For a lighter touch, a quick stir-frying, steaming, or blanching in salted water is all you need. However, like other vegetables in the cabbage family, broccolini will become more interesting if you cook them to a point that they char and caramelize, to create more concentrated flavors and bring out their natural sweetness and nuttiness.
You can achieve that by roasting or grilling. Or, you can follow my recipe below by charring the vegetable in a wok or skillet over the stove top. It’s quicker than roasting and gives you better control than grilling. I’ve noticed that charring the vegetable without oil provides better results. I like to season the dish simply with salt and pepper, and finish with toasted nuts for additional layers of texture and flavor. Feel free to play around with the seasoning, for example by using hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or chile sauce.
Try to use organic brocccolini if you can. The non-organic ones are not as flavorful, and tend to have thicker stems which may require peeling.
Wok-charred broccolini with garlic and walnuts
Makes 2 servings
8 oz (230 g) organic broccolini, cut in 2-inch (5 cm) pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted walnuts or any nuts of your choice, coarsely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of sugar
- Heat the wok or skillet over high heat. Add the broccolini. Stir and mix from time to time, for about 4 minutes, until some parts of the vegetable are slightly charred.
- Transfer the broccolini to a platter. In the same wok over medium heat, heat the oil and quickly stir-fry the minced garlic until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Return the broccolini to the wok. Stir and mix, and season with salt, freshly ground white pepper, and a pinch of sugar. If needed, you can add a little bit of water during this step.
- Top with the walnuts and serve immediately.
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