Charred broccolini is my most trusted side dish. I love to serve it hot from the oven – or BBQ in summer – or at room temperature with salty cheese (like feta or pecorino) and a generous sprinkle of toasted seeds. Turn it into a meal by adding cooked brown lentils.
And if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, blitz it into a pesto. Or make Julia Turshen’s amazing broccoli fritters. Keep reading for all the charred broccolini tips and tricks, or skip straight to the recipe if you are ready to make charred broccolini with preserved lemon and caper dressing.
Praise for Julia Turshen’s Now & Again
There are some recipes you just can’t stop making once you try them. Julia Turshen’s “Charred broccoli with capers and lemon” from Now & Again is one of them. Through repeated cooking, it eventually transformed into this charred broccolini with preserved lemon dish that I serve straight from the wood-fired grill in summer.
The entire cookbook speaks to me on so many levels. It is filled with delicious recipes, inspired menus and endless ideas for reinventing leftovers. I consider myself a leftovers whizz, but this book opens up a whole new world of leftover ideas beyond cheesy casseroles – admittedly a favourite I gravitate towards. May this blog post give you enough new ideas to reinvent your leftovers and go for that double batch of charred broccolini.
I include instructions to char the broccolini in the oven, on the stovetop or over hot coals.
What is broccolini?
While it may look like baby broccoli, broccolini is a hybrid vegetable. It’s a cross between gai lan (also known as Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli) and good old broccoli. Broccolini goes by different trademarked brands. So, depending on your region, you may also know them as Tenderstem broccoli, Bimi broccoli or simply leafy-stemmed broccoli.
Can I use normal (calabrese) broccoli in this recipe?
Charred broccolini is my favourite, but you can definitely use broccoli too. Just keep in mind that the thicker stems take longer to cook through. I include instructions for charring both broccolini and broccoli in the next section.
You can also use Romanesco broccoli (or even cauliflower) florets. The dressing works spectacularly with either.
If you use frozen broccoli, roast the broccoli straight from frozen. Learn how to cook frozen broccoli for the ultimate weeknight convenience. I always have a bag of frozen broccoli for any healthy side dish emergency.
How to char broccolini (or broccoli)
Charred broccolini is a delicious side no matter the season. In the summertime, I love to char broccolini over hot coals. Fine weather is the only excuse I need to get a fire going – with a chilled glass of white wine in hand, of course. On cooler days – or when I prepare a double portion – I turn to the oven. And when temperatures are soaring, I opt for the stovetop method. The stovetop method also works best for small batches of broccolini.
Oven charred broccolini
Place a large baking tray (sheet pan) in the oven and preheat it to 230 °C (or 440 °F). Meanwhile, put the broccolini (or broccoli) in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss everything well to combine.
When the oven is at temperature, remove the preheated baking tray and arrange the broccolini/broccoli evenly in the tray.
Roast the broccolini until cooked through – turning or stirring after 10 minutes or whenever the charring looks uneven. You want tender broccolini stems with nice crispy, charred edges. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for broccolini and up to 30 minutes for broccoli to reach the perfect tenderness and char in my oven. Turn down the temperature if your broccoli is charring too quickly without softening.
Don’t overcrowd the baking tray if you make a double batch. Opt for two baking trays instead.
Stovetop charred broccolini
Cook the broccolini in a pan of lightly salted simmering water for 3 mins until just tender (keep cooking broccoli florets up to 5 minutes). Drain the cooked broccolini and transfer it to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Don’t skip this part, or your broccolini will end up overcooked, looking wilted and sad. Dry the broccolini well and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place a large skillet on high heat. Once piping hot, add the broccolini to char for 2 to 3 minutes, moving them around for an even char. Avoid overcrowding your pan. Rather char the broccolini in two batches if your pan is not big enough. Overcrowding the pan will encourage the broccolini to steam instead of char. Give normal broccoli the same treatment.
Broccolini charred over coals
In South Africa, you don’t need an excuse to braai (a traditional BBQ, typically wood-fired if you live in Cape Town as I do). But braaiing veggies is often overlooked. And Tenderstem broccoli is not the only suitable braai veg. Char large wedges of cabbage, thickly sliced cauliflower and even brussels sprouts (in a heat-resistant wire basket). They all work well with the preserved lemon dressing.
Set a grid about 10 cm over hot coals and add your lightly oiled and salted broccolini. Use a tong to turn it regularly until the veggies reach your perfect char. Place the charred veg in a heatproof bowl with the marinade and toss to coat.
I like my braai veggies still crunchy, so I don’t worry about undercooking the broccolini. However, if you use broccoli, you may want them to soften more after charring. Simply cover the heatproof bowl with a lid or overturned plate. It will continue to soften as they steam and will end up less crispy, but we are all about the charred flavour here.
Serve the broccolini straight from the fire, dressed while piping hot and enjoyed in small plates while standing around the fire as the braaier tends to the next course. Or set it aside to cool down and serve at room temperature with the sit-down dinner.
The preserved lemon and caper dressing
This recipe is all about the broccoli marinade. For a citrus lover like myself, preserved lemons are a no-brainer. They have a supercharged lemon flavour. And the bonus is that they are so easy to make at home!
Homemade preserved lemons need a minimum of four weeks before you can start to use them. Luckily, I found an easy stovetop cheat’s preserved lemon recipe for a preserved lemon substitute that’s ready in less than 30 minutes.
To make the dressing combine olive oil, roughly chopped capers and preserved lemon skins, a minced garlic clove, fresh lemon juice, salt and chopped parsley in a bowl large enough to hold the charred broccolini. The key is to dress the charred veggies while warm for the flavours to mingle.
You can swop the charred broccolini for calabrese broccoli, cauliflower or romanesco broccoli. But the dressing also works well beyond charred veggies. Use it as a salad dressing, serve it alongside seafood, or simply drizzle over a cream cheese bagel. It’s certainly worth making double.
This charred broccoli with preserved lemon and caper recipe is a delicious side, but it is also ripe for reinvention.
Turn the broccolini side dish into a meal
Toothsome brown lentils are the perfect companions for charred broccolini. You can also opt for chickpeas, white beans, or both if you want to bulk up the salad.
Cook ½ a cup of dry brown lentils (or use 1 cup of pre-cooked/tinned lentils) until just tender, retaining a bit of a bite.
After charring, roughly chop the broccolini and add it to the marinade as instructed in the recipe – taking care to leave a few florets intact for presentation if you want.
Add the cooked and drained lentils to the dressed broccolini and combine.
Finally, sprinkle with feta, toasted seeds and the reserved parsley.
Leftover charred broccolini ideas
I love to make a double batch of the charred broccolini with preserved lemon and caper dressing, just for the leftover reinvention opportunities. Sometimes I skip serving it as a side dish altogether and head straight for pesto station.
These leftover recipes work well with or without the feta and toasted seeds, but not with the lentils suggested above.
Julia Turshen’s leftover broccoli(ni) fritters
Finely chop the leftover broccolini, preserved lemons and capers.
For every cup of leftover veggies, whisk together 1 egg, 1/2 cup (60 grams) flour, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt.
Stir the chopped broccolini and dressing into the batter.
Place a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add a splash of cooking oil or butter and swirl around the pan. Working in batches, drop the batter into the skillet. Use roughly one heaped tablespoon of batter per fritter. Cook until bubbles appear on top, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another minute or until browned on the underside. Wipe the skillet clean between batches and repeat the process with fresh oil or butter.
Serve the fritters with some tahini yoghurt or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.