I love surprises, and I’m sure you’ll agree that cooking surprises are among the best.
You set out to make something, unsure where you’re going, assembling things, changing courses as you go; you don’t really know what you’re doing, half-thinking “oh dear that doesn’t look right”, but still, you’re going with the flow, following your intuition and reasoning that, with what’s in it, what could go wrong?
And then, despite your doubts — which you’d think would undermine the confidence of the dish, and cripple its ambition — what you make turns out, not just passable, not just okay, but plain excellent. You look at it and it looks really good. You eat it and you marvel, with each bite, at the sheer magic of cooking chemistry.
This is precisely what happened with this Broccoli and Cornmeal Upside Down Cake. I prepared it the other night, coming home from work: I had cornbread on the brain and I wanted to use up a lonely head of broccoli that was feeling neglected. I was going to fold the broccoli into a cornmeal-based batter, but at the very last minute decided to pour the batter on top of the broccoli instead, à la upside down cake.
But the batter seemed a little strange, I was wondering about the amount of baking powder I had used, and was generally unsure about the whole idea. Still, I put it into the oven and hoped for the best. I kept an eye on it, and saw it turn beautifully golden. When it looked about ready I flipped it onto a serving plate and was ever-so-pleased to discover how pretty it looked.
I cut it in wedges, served it warm, and was delighted with the outcome. Cornmeal and broccoli go wonderfully well together: the cornmeal batter develops a nice crust on the outside, and feels increasingly moist the closer it gets to the broccoli. The walnuts and raisins add great textural and flavor variety; next time I may try walnut and bacon bits for a non-vegetarian version. The leftovers were fantastic, served cold for lunch the next day, and I think this would be the perfect picnic item or brunch dish, made the night before and served at room temperature.
- 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
- 200 g (3/4 cup) cottage cheese
- 125 g (1/2 cup) plain yogurt
- 2 large organic eggs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 80 grams (1/2 cup) finely ground cornmeal
- 65 grams (1/2 cup) whole wheat or all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- A handful of raisins
- A handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan, add in the broccoli and let simmer for 8 minutes, until cooked through but not too soft. (This is my favored cooking method for broccoli, but you can steam it if you prefer.)
- Drain and set aside in the colander to finish draining.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 20-cm (8-inch) cake pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs and oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In another medium mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour and baking powder.
- Fold the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined; the batter will be thick. Do not overmix, it's fine if it's still a little lumpy.
- Arrange the cooked broccoli at the bottom of the cake pan. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the walnuts and raisins. Pour the batter evenly over the broccoli, and smooth it out with a spatula.
- Put into the oven to bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden and lightly crusty.
- Let rest on the counter for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the pan to loosen the cornmeal crust, cover the pan with a serving plate, and flip assertively (protect your hands with oven mitts of course) so the cake ends up broccoli side up on the plate.
- Slice into wedges, using a sharp knife to avoid smooshing the broccoli. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold. Any leftovers can be reheated for 10 minutes in a hot oven if you wish to revive the crispness of the crust.