[Broccoli and Cornmeal Upside Down Cake]
I love surprises, and I’m sure you’ll agree that cooking surprises are among the best.
You start out to make something, unsure where you’re going, assembling things, changing course 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 instincts and reasoning that, with what’s in it, it can’t be that bad, can it?
And then, despite your doubts — which you’d think would undermine the dish’s confidence, and cripple its ambition — what you made turns out, not passable, not okay, but just 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 mind and I wanted to use up a lonely head of broccoli that was feeling a bit 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 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, sweet and scrumptious. 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 methinks this would be the perfect picnic item or brunch dish, made the night before and served at room temperature.
Broccoli and Cornmeal Upside Down Cake
– one head of broccoli
– 200 g (3/4 C) cottage cheese
– 125 g (1/2 C) plain yogurt
– 2 eggs
– 1 Tbsp olive oil
– 1/2 C yellow cornmeal
– 1/2 C whole wheat or all purpose flour
– 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
– a handful of brown raisins
– a handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped
– salt, pepper
(Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a starter or side.)
Wash the broccoli and cut it into florets. Bring some salted water to a boil in a large saucepan, add in the broccoli and let simmer for 8 minutes, until cooked but not limp. (This is my favored cooking method for broccoli, but you can steam it if you prefer.) Drain and run cold water on it to stop the cooking. Set aside in a colander to drain thoroughly while you take the next steps.
Preheat the oven to 180°F (360°F). Grease a 20 cm (8-inch) cake pan, unless it’s nonstick.
In a medium mixing-bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs and oil, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. In another medium mixing-bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour and baking powder. Fold the liquid mixture into the dry mixture 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 on the walnuts and raisins. Pour the batter evenly over the broccoli, and smooth it out a bit with a spatula.
Put into the oven to bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden and crispy. 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 quickly (protect your hands with a kitchen towel of course) so the cake lands, broccoli-side up, on the plate.
Cut in wedges, preferably with caution and a sharp knife, so as not to smoosh the broccoli. Serve warm, at room-temperature or cold. Reheat leftovers for ten minutes in the oven if you wish to revive the crispiness of the crust.