The buds on my forsythia bush are starting to peek out, a sure sign of a change in season. Still, there is a long way to go before any local garden will be producing something to eat. Indoor amusements are getting me through these cold days.
With so little color in the landscape, these beets I had prepped for roasting beguiled me with their ruby striations. I grabbed my camera to capture their heart-shaped beauty, perfect for a valentine's day meal, if your loved one happens to be into beets.
These golden beets, just pulled from the oven, retain their glow. It got my pulse racing a bit admiring these lusty root vegetables. So so pretty, but not my most favorite vegetable to eat, alas.
Sharing dinner this weekend with good friends at the cozy East Village restaurant Sorella, we were urged to sample the Broccoli Frito, a restaurant specialty our friends could not recommend more urgently. Sold! I am thrilled to try any dish so warmly recommended.
The broccoli is doused in a hot pepper aoili and smothered with grated Grana Padano, the queen of Italian hard grating cheeses. The flavor of the dish was to die for, nutty, cheesy, with a fantastic spicy bite, but the killer tada! was the amazing crunchy texture that defied reason. The broccoli did not have a thick crust like tempura, and the vegetable itself was perfectly tender, but the resounding crunch, as if biting into a hard crouton, was somehow engineered into this little offering. I dissected a piece of the broccoli on the plate, searching for a clue, until our waiter graciously revealed that the chef uses rice flour to create the crunch. huh? cool!
So I am thinking, this could be done at home, no? I ransacked my cupboards today for rice flour, and found a bag of brown rice flour. Would the brown rice make a difference? I found other flour options while searching and thought, why not try them all and see if I can figure something out.
The flour contenders were: the brown rice flour, cornstarch, a gluten free flour blend, crushed rice chips and tapioca flour.
I mixed a bit of water into each flour to create a loose batter the consistency of infants baby cereal.
The gluten free flour from Bob's Red Mill is a blend of chickpea flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and fava bean flour.
Each flour absorbed the water differently so I had to adjust the liquid as I whisked the batters smooth. A pinch of salt and a spoonful of grated cheese finished each batter off.
Next I cranked up my deep frier and prepped the broccoli. Oh this was going to be fun! Each piece of broccoli was dipped into a batter and fried for barely a minute. Out they came and the taste testing began.
The brown rice batter had a soft crunch and a nice, mildly nutty flavor. Next up, the cornstarch batter came out with about the same level of crunchiness. The gluten free flour batter was the most "batter-like" and in fact tasted great, but it was a different experience than Sorella's crunchy masterpiece. The rice chips were a waste of time and the tapioca had such a non-flavor that it actually detracted from the flavor of the broccoli. I discarded the last two batters and tried the first three options again.
I never got close to the astounding crunch offered at Sorella, but the brown rice batter had a pleasing flavor and is worth experimenting with further. The cornstarch batter is my old deep frying stand-by and there were no surprises here. The cornstarch does the job without interfering with the flavor of the food. The gluten-free blend was a nice option if you are going for a more obvious batter-like consistency and I will certainly use it when the occasion arises.
When the broccoli comes out of the frier smother it with more grated cheese.
A deep frier can become an amazingly entertaining toy on a winter's afternoon. The conclusion of my trials is that broccoli tastes really good fried no matter what you put on it! I am fascinated to continue to uncover the mystery of the super crunchy broccoli and all suggestions are welcome.