Whole roasted broccoli over muhammara makes a festive centerpiece

Broccoli looks like a tree — or trees, depending on how you cut it.

That’s a delightful fact that plenty of people surely noticed long before Mollie Katzen drew a group of them sticking out of the ground under a crescent moon, for the cover of “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” in 1982. How many generations of parents have tried to get their kids to eat the green florets by making the comparison? Probably as many as have used the old “Open the hangar, here comes the airplane!” trick.

In 2006’s “Breakfast, Lunch, Tea,” Rose Carrarini published a recipe for a savory cake that hid broccoli florets under the batter, making for painterly slices. Just this year, Hetty Lui McKinnon riffed on the same idea in “Tenderheart,” but for her Broccoli Forest Loaf she let the crowns peek out from the top of the cake, too.

Get the recipe: Whole Roasted Broccoli With Muhammara

This favorite of the crucifer family can certainly be broken down — I’ve enjoyed it finely chopped in tabbouleh, and of course pureed into soups — but if you can cook it in a way that showcases its lines, why wouldn’t you?

As Joni Mitchell wrote, now’s the season when we’re “coming on Christmas, cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace.” I’m behind on all of the above, but I have managed to cut down a few broccoli trees in my efforts to design a holiday dish worthy of centerpiece status.

The approach might remind you of a whole roasted cauliflower, but broccoli’s less-dense flesh makes the path to tenderness much shorter. You don’t have to cover it, boil it or steam it in advance, the way some roasted-cauliflower recipes require. I like to pair this with a creamy base, which can turn into a dip for swiping forkfuls of the broccoli through as you and your guests eat it. Hummus is my go-to when I roast a whole cauliflower, but for this I wanted something brighter, punchier and, well, prettier.

I found the answer in my take on muhammara, the Middle Eastern spread that traditionally includes red bell pepper, walnuts, bread and pomegranate molasses. I streamline the process by roasting everything — broccoli included — on the same sheet pan. When it comes out of the oven, everything but the broccoli gets pureed, and the color combination on the platter will remind you of nothing more than Christmas.

Unlike with cauliflower, I prefer to leave on as much of the broccoli’s stem as possible, meaning it won’t necessarily stand up straight on the platter, even when nestled in that hedge of muhammara. But that’s okay. This broccoli forest might be leaning, but it’s as enchanting as ever.

Get the recipe: Whole Roasted Broccoli With Muhammara

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