Crispy Broccoli with Black Vinegar


Imagine this. You are sitting at a restaurant. You order food and a bottle of wine that you’ve never tried before but sounded interesting on the menu. When the waiter pours a glass for you and you taste it you immediately love it. “We should find this and buy a few bottles,” you say. So you pull out your smartphone, open an app, and take a picture of the wine label. Despite the dim lighting, the app immediately recognizes the wine and shows you how much other users have liked it. Right there, next to the name of the wine is a red button with the price per bottle. You click it and within ten seconds, you have ordered half a case of the wine. Three days later it shows up at your doorstep.

Ten years ago, this would have been an “in the future” scenario. But it’s exactly what Steve and I did a few weeks ago while eating at a restaurant called The Gorbals. The app is called Delectable and it works like magic. Even though Steve and I both work in tech, we still find ourselves awestruck at times at how amazing technology can be.

We were also awestruck by some of the food we had that night, including a dish of crispy broccoli, doused in an umami-rich vinaigrette. I immediately identified that it was made with black vinegar, also known as Chinkiang vinegar. It’s a Chinese vinegar made by adding acetic acid and bacteria to glutinous rice, but also to wheat, millet, or sorghum. It’s deep and soulful, with a light smokiness, a strong malt flavor, and a very distant hint of sugar.

The very next day, I bought some broccoli and tried to recreate the recipe. I am pretty sure that they deep fried their broccoli but I was able to get pretty similar results by roasting it at a high temperature in the oven. The result is an addictive combination of sweet, salty, and sour. Make a lot. You will eat it.

And while we’re at it, can someone create a device, which I can point at a cooked dish and it figures out the exact recipe with which it was made? In the future, I guess…
DSC04092Crispy Broccoli with Black Vinegar


1 lb (480 g) broccoli florets
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil


Preheat the oven to 425º F. Place the broccoli florets in a large bowl and add salt and pepper. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and with your hands toss the florets well. Place in a large baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the tips of the florets are very dark brown.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon oil. When broccoli is done, place it in a large serving bowl and pour the dressing over it. Gently toss it in the bowl to get it dressed. Serve immediately.


Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage


Substitutions don’t always work.

Years ago, when I was just learning French, I was in Paris and my carpal tunnel syndrome was acting up. I needed to get a wrist splint to help alleviate the pain. An online search for the French word for “splint” was fruitless, so I decided I would just describe it. I walked into the first pharmacy and approached the pharmacist. In my halting French, I started to speak.

“Hello. I need something – I don’t know the word in French – something to fix my wrist in place.”

The pharmacist looked at me funny. I continued, undaunted.

“You see, my wrist is inflamed and it hurts, so I need something to restrict it.”

I could see a smile starting to take place on the pharmacist’s lips. Actually, no, that wasn’t a smile. It was a suppressed laugh!

“There is an inflammation in my wrist,” I went on, “and I need this thing you use to stop it from moving.”

I could tell that the pharmacist could barely contain herself. I started to mimic a splint, encircling my wrist with the other hand, showing her how it works.

“Oh! No monsieur,” she immediately replied, looking relieved. “We don’t have any. I’m sorry.”


I walked out of the pharmacy confused. Why was she so close to breaking out in laughter? Was my French so bad? On a hunch, I pulled out my phone and did a couple of searchers on my online French-English dictionary. I immediately started laughing out loud.

The French word for wrist is poignet. Unfortunately, in my explanation to the pharmacist, I had substituted it with the word poitrine, a word that means bosom or breasts. I had just asked her for something to fix my breasts in place because they were inflamed.

Like I said, substitutions don’t always work.

The recipe below, however, can take just about any substitution. No broccoli rabe? Use regular broccoli (like I did here), or brussel sprouts, or squash, or any other vegetable you have. Just adjust its cooking time, or use it precooked in the case of squash. No mozzarella? Use any left over cheese in your refrigerator. The sausage used can be made from just about anything, beef, pork, chicken, or replaced with mushrooms if you’re a vegetarian.


Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen


1 pound chunky pasta of your choice (such as penne or orecchiette)
1 bundle broccoli rabe, stems and leaves cut into 1-inch segments (or about 3-4 cups of chopped up broccoli)
1 pound Italian sausage (or your favorite uncooked sausage), casings removed
2/3 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
6 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes
2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Few gratings fresh nutmeg


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and five minutes before its cooking time is up, add the broccoli rabe (for regular broccoli, add it 3 minutes before it’s done). Drain the broccoli rabe and pasta together and place in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide saucepan (you will use this for the bechamel in a few minutes; you could also use your pasta pot, once it is drained) over medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Remove with slotted spoon or spatula, leaving any fat behind. Eyeball the drippings and use one tablespoon less butter next if it looks like there’s more than a tablespoon there. Any less, don’t worry about adjusting the butter.

Heat oven to 400º F.

Melt your butter in same saucepan that you cooked the sausage in over medium heat. Once melted, add your flour and stir it into the butter until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour in a small drizzle of your milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to drizzle a very small amount at a time, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added a little over half of your milk, you’ll find that you have more of a thick sauce or batter, and you can start adding the milk in larger splashes, being sure to keep mixing. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg, and few grinds of black pepper, and bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Add the sausage and bechamel to the bowl with the pasta and broccoli rabe. Stir in mozzarella and half of grated parmesan or pecorino until combined. Pour into a lasagna pan, deep 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole dish and coat with remaining parmesan or pecorino. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges and craggy points are nicely bronzed.

Roasted Broccoli with Anchovies and Black Garlic


I guess I know that a once obscure food item has gone mainstream when I can find it at my corner grocery store, right in the produce aisle. I’m talking about black garlic, a onetime rare delicacy that I am hoping will continue its trend to easy access (In addition to our corner store, I also found it at Trader Joe’s and I’m sure it’s available at Whole Foods). Black garlic is regular garlic that has been aged in a hot environment (often referred to as “fermentation,” though the term is under dispute) over several weeks until it turns coal black. Each clove is soft and slightly sticky, almost jelly-like, with a taste that’s sweet with tones of tarragon and molasses, but still clinging to its mellow garlic flavor. It’s delicious, versatile (it stays good for a long time), and incredibly addictive.


A few weeks ago I was putting together dinner for us and I decided to come up with a new dressing for roasted broccoli, instead of the usual lemon zest, parmesan, and olive oil that I use. I had some leftover anchovies packed in oil and a head of half-used black garlic and I thought, salty and sweet, all I need is some fat and some acid to make the perfect dressing. So, I experimented a little and ended up with this recipe. It makes for an extremely satisfying side dish, one that would probably overwhelm any main dish you pair it with, so choose something simple, like grilled chicken or tuna steaks (as we did in the photo below).


Roasted Broccoli with Anchovies and Black Garlic

Makes 2-3 servings


12 oz (350 g) of fresh broccoli florets (from three broccoli stems)
1½ tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
4-5 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained and chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-5 cloves black garlic, sliced into thin slices
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar


Preheat oven at 425º F. In a large bowl, toss broccoli, 1½ tablespoon olive oil, and freshly ground pepper (do not add salt to the broccoli). Spread on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway through, until the broccoli starts to turn dark brown at the edges.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk with a fork until combined. As soon as the broccoli is finished roasting, place it in a heatproof bowl, add the dressing and toss well. Serve immediately.