Braised Romanesco Broccoli with Onions and Olives
In the Lucania region of southern Italy, whole cauliflower is slow-cooked in lard with onions, olives, and a little red pepper. This dish is called cavolfiore seduto (“sitting” cauliflower); the cauliflower “sits” down in the sauce as it cooks and softens. Joyce Goldstein includes a similar recipe in Italian Slow and Savory (Chronicle Books 2004). Cooked this way, broccoli’s soft, creamy nuttiness is perfectly complemented by sweet, spicy onions and punctuated by deep-flavored olives. It’s easy to make, looks terrific, and tastes even better. Cauliflower, of any color, may be substituted for Romanesco broccoli. Plain Kalamata olives are delicious, though I prefer using Roasted Kalamata Olives in recipes like this. Dry-cured or salt-cured olives (such as those from Thassos) may also be used, but be sure to taste them and use less than 1/2 cup if they’re strong flavored. Broccoli will cook more quickly and evenly with the right sized pan; ideally, you need a covered pan 2” wider in diameter than the whole broccoli.
1 large head Romanesco broccoli, about 1 1/2 pounds
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups sliced yellow onions, 1/4″ slices
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper, or 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
1 cup water
Break leaves off broccoli and cut stem even with bottom. Turn broccoli upside down (stem end up) and, with small knife, cut an “X” deep into heart of the stem.
Sauté onions, with liberal seasoning of black pepper and light seasoning of salt (remember, olives add salt), in olive oil until onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in Aleppo pepper, olives, and water. Set broccoli on top of onion mixture. Bring liquid to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until broccoli is tender (the exact cooking time depends on size and freshness of broccoli).
When broccoli is done, carefully remove it from pan, making sure to keep it whole. If sauce is too thin, turn heat up, bring it to a boil, and cook, stirring regularly to make sure onions don’t burn, until it’s no longer watery.
Spread onion-olive mixture on serving plate, top with broccoli, and deliver to the table with a dramatic flourish. To serve, cut broccoli in quarters and top with onion-olive mixture.