Broccolini on a Saturday Evening

I’ve been telling my children that the true essence of Shabbat is the day of rest part – a day away from the rest, a day set apart for seeing people you love the most, for doing the things you most enjoy, and for eating well-cooked, thoughtful meals and lingering over the table.

This past Saturday night, I was alone in my house, my children gone to their father. And when it occurred to me to be hungry, I made myself dinner slowly, with music on the CD player (Joshua Radin) and so many flavors, I couldn’t help but smile.

First, I sprinkled salt and pepper over a fillet of Lake Superior whitefish. I sauteed it in butter and olive oil until it was golden. I added tomato chunks and let the whole thing simmer until the tomatoes melted into a satiny rich sauce.

Then I cut slim stems of broccolini and threw them in a pan over olive oil and minced garlic, sprinkle salt and pepper on, and let it go. After a few minutes, when the oil was beginning to dissipate, I added an inch of water and let the broccolini cook until the water had evaporated away and my vegetables had started to crisp.

I learned that recipe in 1993 from my friend Lydia. We were living in a cookie-cutter New York¬†apartment after college. Lydia would come from working as a paralegal, strip down to bra and underwear, and turn music on loud. She stood in the galley kitchen and chopped broccoli to throw into a pan with garlic and hot red pepper flakes to give it kick. We poured wine into glasses and didn’t talk much, just let the music overtake us.

The sizzle of the cooking broccoli added to the sound, jazz, filling our apartment. She poured pasta spirals into bubbling water. When the broccoli was crisp and a little burnt, she turned off the flame. The noodles steamed in a colander in the sink. Lydia threw it all together in a bowl and doused it with olive oil and parmesan cheese, and we ate until we were full.

I met Lydia in eighth grade, when she used to steal her parents’ car and drive around town for kicks. I haven’t seen her since I left New York in 1994, but I still make her broccoli. I have no idea if she finished law school or fell in love. I don’t know if she has children or if she still makes this simple but satisfying dish herself.

Sometimes I make it just the way Lydia did – noodles bathed in olive oil, broccoli adding color. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to say, “Eat trees!”

It is this type of simple but layered meal that reaches the senses – the soft velvet of the broccoli, the silky slide of the noodles, the belly-filling cheese. It takes no effort to ingest, little effort to make and yet it makes us all feel whole.

Recipe for Lydia’s broccoli:

chop one batch of fresh broccoli – tossing the bottom half of the stalks
mince 2-3 garlic cloves
coat the bottom of a saute pan with good olive oil
add broccoli
sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes
after a few minutes, add enough water to cover an inch deep in the pan
stirring occasionally, let cook until the water evaporates and the broccoli begins to burns lightly
serve as a side dish or tossed with pasta and parmesan cheese


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