Sear broccoli for a great summer salad

Toasted nuts add crunch to this charred broccoli salad
Toasted nuts add crunch to this charred broccoli salad Chicago Tribune

Prep: 20 minutes; cook: 10 minutes; makes: 4 servings

I love garden-fresh broccoli and usually blanch it to keep it bright green and crisp for weekday enjoyment. I detest the smell of burnt broccoli – it reminds me of my early days learning to cook. However, a bowl of charred broccoli salad with cashews at Superiority Burger in New York changed my thinking. This summer, I enlist the help of my cast-iron skillet to sear broccoli pieces without burning. I’m adding an equally flavorful balsamic dressing (seasoned with capers, anchovies and fresh basil) to complement the dark char flavor. With a sprinkle of nuts, you have a great vegetarian main.

1 clove garlic, peeled

3 anchovy fillets or 1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy fillet

1 small serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed

1 tablespoon dark raisins

1 pound fresh broccoli (about 1 bunch)

1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for high heat cooking, such as expeller pressed canola or safflower oil

1 small red onion, halved, cut into wedges

For dressing, turn on the blender, and drop in the garlic to chop. Add anchovies, serrano and vinegar. Process until smooth. With machine running, stream the oil in through the lid of the blender until smooth. Turn off the blender; add the basil, capers and raisins. Process with on/off pulses until you have a coarse puree.

Peel the broccoli stalks. Slice the stalks into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Cut the florets into bite-size pieces. You’ll have about 6 cups.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a drop of water evaporate on contact. Add the nuts; toast until golden, about 1 minute. Do not walk away or they will burn. Transfer to a small plate to cool.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the hot pan along with the onion. Cook over medium-high, stirring often, until onion is nicely tender and charred, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add another 1/2 tablespoon oil and half the broccoli in a single uncrowded layer. Cook until crisp-tender and slightly charred on the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the onions. Cook remaining broccoli in remaining oil until charred. Return all the broccoli and onion to the skillet. Turn off the heat.

Stir the dressing into the pan; toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with toasted nuts.

Note: You can substitute green or wax beans (or a combination) for the broccoli; cook them in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, then drain and pat dry. Then continue with searing the beans as directed in step 5.

Nutrition per serving: 323 calories, 30 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 5 g protein, 174 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

By JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune