One of the few vegetables I always blanch is broccoli. For years I skipped blanching before freezing altogether. As I mention elsewhere on this blog, blanching affects food quality rather than food safety, and I wasn’t really tasting the difference with most vegetables. Besides, I grill corn, onions, eggplant, and most other veg before freezing, which makes a blanch step redundant.
Broccoli, I’ve learned, is a big exception. Frozen raw, it ends up tasting bitter and woody, even when you add cheese and stock to make a soup. I opt to place the chopped stems and florets in a steamer basket instead of plunging them into the boiling water. Hervé This explains in Kitchen Mysteries that hydrogen ions ultimately are responsible for cooked vegetables appearing brown instead of green. Putting vegetables directly into water only increases their contact with hydrogen.
4 teaspoons salt (optional)
Remove any leaves and woody stem ends from the broccoli. Split larger heads lengthwise so that they’re about 1-1/2 inches across. Check the sections for insects, such as cabbage loopers or aphids. If you find any, stir the salt into 1 gallon of water and then add the broccoli. Let it sit in this brine for 30 minutes, and then rinse and drain.
Coarsely chop the broccoli stems and florets. Place your steamer basket in a large saucepan, add water so that it covers the bottom of the pan but does not touch the base of the steamer basket, and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli stems and then the florets, cover the pan, and steam for 5 minutes. While they steam, fill a large bowl with cold water. When the broccoli is blanched, pull out the steamer basket and tip the broccoli into the cold water. Leave it there about 10 minutes, or until completely cool, and then tip it into a colander to drain.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re freezing a lot of broccoli, you can separate out a bag of just florets to toss into pasta or stir-fry or even to use as a last-minute addition for texture in a blended soup.
- You could steam broccoli in 3-inch or longer chunks, but I find that this takes up more space in the freezer. At the other extreme, meticulous dicing is unnecessary.
- In your cooling bowl of water, ice cubes are also overkill: J. Kenji López-Alt tested this traditional method and found just the cold water does the trick. In The Food Lab, he even argues that you could spread the hot broccoli on a baking tray to prevent overcooking. I still prefer cooling in water; putting a tray of still-warm broccoli into the freezer just encourages ice crystals to form and the broccoli to stick to the tray.
Twice as Tasty
Broccoli Cheese Soup was one of my childhood favorites. I loved watching my mom drop handful after handful of Cheddar cheese into the pot. I also have vivid memories of her pouring too much soup into the blender and the lid exploding off the top—yet another reason to make an immersion blender one of your best friends in the kitchen.
I’ve naturally tweaked her recipe over the years, but mainly I’ve just made it easy to prepare straight from the freezer when the snow is deep and you don’t feel like leaving the house. This is one more take on a ratio soup recipe, with a roux thickening first the cheese sauce and then a soup. For chowder thickness, add a couple of chopped baked or mashed potatoes to the pot.
Broccoli Cheese Soup
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar
6 cups Vegetable Stock
1 cup frozen chopped grilled onion (about 6 ounces)
4 cups frozen Steam-Blanched Broccoli
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Spicy German-Style Mustard
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Let it bubble for about 30 seconds, and then add the flour. Cook, stirring thoroughly, for about 2 minutes, or until the flour darkens slightly. Gradually blend in the milk, stirring with a wire whisk over medium heat until thickened. Stir in the grated cheese until it is uniformly melted.
In a stockpot, heat the stock to a simmer. Add the frozen onion and broccoli, lemon juice, mustard, and oregano; bring back to a simmer and cook 5–10 minutes, or until the frozen vegetables are fully defrosted. Use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables, or pour the soup into a blender in batches and puree until smooth. Stir in the cheese sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Serves 6–8.
Tips & Tricks
- With frozen vegetables and stock, this meal is easily on the table in 30 minutes, particularly if you heat the stock while you make the cheese sauce. With fresh ingredients, add another 15 minutes to your time frame. Use this extra time to sauté the onion and then the broccoli in a couple of additional tablespoons of butter. Water can be substituted for stock in a pinch.
- For a bit of texture in the soup, add an extra cup of frozen broccoli florets just before serving and heat about 5 minutes, or until defrosted. If using fresh broccoli, steam these florets for about 5 minutes and then stir them into the pot or even each bowl.
- I love the slight tang added by the lemon juice and mustard, but if you’re kids turn up their noses you can leave these flavors out and use a milder cheese. However, bread for dipping is almost a requirement: Even my 3- and 5-year-old niece and nephew beg for a hunk of sourdough on the side.
- Once made, this soup is tasty over the next few days or freezes well in containers. Just be sure to reheat it slowly, stirring often; the cheese sauce likes to stick to the bottom of a saucepan.