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Seasonal eating: Pan-seared broccolini with sharp cheddar 

Recipes to reduce food waste

Most broccolini recipes instruct you to sear the broccolini until it’s bright green and mostly tender, then steam until cooked through. This recipe reverses those steps. (Photo by Hannah Green)
By Hannah Green CDN Contributor

Spring has arrived. Celebrate with the first tender green vegetables that have made their intrepid way through the hard winter ground. This month, our root-to-leaf recipe makes use of all parts of the beautiful broccolini, highlighting its tasty yet often overlooked leaves. It uses pan-fried leaves to add contrasting texture, balancing the tender broccolini stems and matching the crackling sharp cheddar. 

Most broccolini recipes instruct you to sear the broccolini until it’s bright green and mostly tender, then put a lid over the pan and steam with a little water until cooked through. This recipe reverses those steps. The broccolini steams first, becoming tender and preserving its color, and then we sear. This allows us to better control the “al dente” texture, and to cook toppings in the same pan. We’re going for lacy edges of crisp cheddar on the bottom with pools of glossy melted cheese on top, and a good caramelization on the broccolini. 

Pan-seared broccolini with crispy broccoli leaves and sharp cheddar 


Serves 2 

  • 8 ounces broccolini, rapini or baby broccoli 
  • 2 ounces sharp cheddar, or your favorite sharp cheese (see note) 
  • 1 teaspoon olive or avocado oil 
  • Red pepper flakes 
  • 1 small lemon 

1. Wash and dry the broccolini, then trim the very ends if tough or woody, usually a half-inch to an inch. You may not need to trim the ends at all. Strip the leaves off the stalks and reserve. 

2. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to a cast iron pan or other high-heat pan. Heat over medium-high until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. To test the temperature, drop a small leaf into the oil. It should start to sputter around the edges within a few seconds, but not brown. Careful — these have a lot of moisture, and they pop in the hot oil. 

3. Add the broccolini leaves and stir to evenly distribute around the surface of the pan. Cook, stirring a few times until leaves have crisped up but are still mostly green, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. The leaves take on a bright green hue with spots of blistered brown. The texture is shatteringly crisp, and the taste becomes nutty and vibrant. These are addictive —eat some right off the plate, reserving the rest to scatter over our broccolini. 

4. Turn off the heat and allow the pan to cool before adding the broccolini stems. While the pan is cooling, slice the lemon into wedges and coarsely crumble the cheddar into pebble-sized pieces. 

5. Once the pan is cool, nestle the broccolini stems into the pan. The stalks are flexible and will nestle together nicely in a single layer with a little maneuvering; make sure at least part of each stalk is touching the bottom. Just cover the bottom of the pan with water, about a centimeter deep. Put the lid on the skillet. 

6. Heat to a rolling boil and cook, undisturbed, for about five to six minutes depending on the thickness of the stems. The stalks will become almost impossibly, vibrantly green. Once the water has almost entirely evaporated, remove the lid. Keep cooking over high heat, undisturbed, until the bottom of the broccolini is just beginning to caramelize. 

7. Add the pieces of cheddar cheese and cook until the cheese that touches the bottom of the pan has turned crisp and lacy, and the broccolini is golden-brown on the bottom and fork-tender with a bit of resistance. 

8. Remove the pan from heat. Allow to cool until the browned cheese has firmed up slightly and you can easily lift the broccolini and cheese from the pan with a spatula. 

9. Transfer cheesy broccolini to a plate. Top with the frizzled leaves and add red pepper flakes to taste. Serve with the lemon wedges to squeeze over each serving. 

Serve with good crusty bread (this week I enjoyed Raven Bakery’s hearth loaf with my broccolini), over braised white beans, topped with poached eggs or with crumbled Italian sausage. For variation, add thinly sliced garlic cloves to the pan when you add the cheddar, or finish with fresh herbs like parsley, thyme or dill. For an extra citrusy kick, zest the lemon before slicing it into wedges and sprinkle the lemon zest over the broccolini just before serving. 


You can use any medium-hard cheese you like, including aged gouda, havarti and gruyère. I’ve used Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar ever since a staff member at Slough Food in Bow-Edison told me that’s the only cheese they use for their incredible two-ingredient grilled cheese. (The other ingredient is bread.) Bless the businesses that are generous with their knowledge and recipes. 

Pair this crispy-cheesy broccolini with a rich and creamy chardonnay or a fuller-bodied rosé wine, or a very light unoaked red.

Hannah Green's Root-to-Leaf column appears monthly.

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