Most of my understanding of the category of diner sandwiches we know as “melts” comes from the hyper-local archive of culinary amusements I know as Foods My Husband Will Order For Himself When Left To His Own Devices. I can’t give away all of his secrets — well, I can, but for a fee — but I have been given permission to tell you that the list is topped with Regrettable Chinese Takeout With a Life-Threatening Amount of Sichuan Peppercorns (to be repeated next time, no lessons learned), and somewhat further down the list, only if the day has been long and terrible enough, is a tuna melt — as in jarred mayo meets canned fish meets something square and flat that only passes for cheese in America. Did it not always come with a side of steak fries, which I want to steal because you should know by now that fries don’t count when I say I’m not hungry for dinner, I’d probably be breaking our house “don’t yuck my yum” rule even more often than my offspring.
So when I read that 2016 was going to be the year of the melt, I wondered if we were in for more dark times for Deb, such as when the entire universe decided that beets were delicious and it was 24 months before I could safely order a salad again. Instead, I decided to take matters into my own hands and rewrite the melt script in a way that I could enjoy, endlessly. Because I like bread. I like cheese. And while tuna salad may not be my thing, I hope you will soon agree that the mess I call Broccoli Rubble is ever as much deserving to be a star.
Loosely inspired by my favorite crispy broccoli as well as this pecorino fried bread, broccoli rubble applies the same family of flavors to the stovetop, where briefly blanched and well-chopped broccoli is sautéed with a sinus-clearing volume of garlic and pepper flakes, before being dressed with lemon zest, juice and salty pecorino cheese. Previously, I was happy enough to eat broccoli rubble straight from the bowl, but now that I’ve seen what happens draped with with a broiled-until-blistered-and-collapsed slice of deli provolone, there’s no going back. Biting into this, I realized that we expect things under a curtain of cheese to be mild or bland but this — all crunch and booming flavor, basically, broccoli talking with its hands — is anything but. All that’s missing is the steak fries.
One year ago: Perfect Corn Muffins
Two years ago: Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt
Three years ago: Italian Stuffed Cabbage
Four years ago: Double Coconut Muffins
Five years ago: Green Bean Salad with Fried Almonds
Six years ago: Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Mint Chocolate Cream
Seven years ago: Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage
Eight years ago: Best Chocolate Pudding
Nine years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Frozen Hot Chocolate
1.5 Years Ago: Smoky Eggplant Dip
2.5 Years Ago: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
3.5 Years Ago: My Favorite Brownies
4.5 Years Ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
I usually make this with broccolini, which I prefer because it much less notably discolors when hit with lemon juice. Outside of aesthetics, both broccolini and regular broccoli work the same here, and are equally delicious. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys anchovies, they meld well here with the garlic and pepper flakes.
Yield: 8 small-medium open-faced melts
1 pound broccolini or regular broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few pinches red pepper flakes, to taste
Finely grated zest, then juice, of 1/2 lemon (juice before zesting only if you enjoy being grumpy)
Coarse salt, to taste
1/2 cup finely grated aged pecorino romano cheese
8 thin slices totally unfancy deli provolone
8 slices bread of your choice
If using broccolini, cut it into 2-inch segments. If regular broccoli, peel the stems with a vegetable peeler first so that they cook evenly, and cut the rest into large chunks.
Pour about 1-inch puddle of salted water into a large sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and cover with a lid and boil/steam for 2 minutes. Drain well and pat dry on paper towels, wringing out as much extra liquid as possible. Chop into small (roughly 1/2-inch) bits.
Wipe sauté pan dry and heat over medium. Add olive oil and let it heat for a full minute. Add garlic and pepper flakes, cooking for 1 minutes, or until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden. Add the broccoli and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, seasoning with salt. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add lemon zest, juice, pecorino and more salt and pepper flakes to taste.
Heat broiler. Arrange slices of bread on a tray and lightly toast on both sides. Scoop broccoli mixture onto each slice of bread, lay a slice of provolone over it and run under the broiler until cheese has melted and begun to blister. Eat. Repeat. Don’t forget to share, or at least hide the evidence if you decide not to.