The NMFMA has begun working on a new column with our partners at Edible Santa Fe! We’ll be bringing you cooking tips for local ingredients by some of New Mexico’s own chefs.
When Sarah Hartford of Hartford Square cooks with broccolini it comes from a place of passion.
As an owner/chef who sources as many locally grown and organic ingredients as possible, Hartford believes that serving food like vibrant, healthy broccolini is part of her culinary mission.
Located in an area known locally as East Downtown, or EDo, Hartford Square is a modern eatery hidden in plain sight near the Convention Center and a bevy of office buildings. Black and white checkered floors, lots of white and stainless steel, chalkboards with weekly menus, and a glass case filled with sumptuous food greet you upon entry.
Creating an inviting aesthetic seems to come naturally to Hartford, who is a former art director. A Boston native who has been in Albuquerque nearly 25 years, Hartford says owning a restaurant is something she has always wanted to do. She modeled her restaurant on several small places she liked in New England and New York. Her core ideas include displaying all of the food and “providing seasonal, organic, local food that people can take anywhere they need to go — home, the office or a concert.”
She has delivered on these concepts, and June will mark her first anniversary. By keeping her menu small and changing it weekly, Hartford gracefully incorporates whatever the season has to offer.
Still early in the growing season, the variety of local ingredients she receives is impressive: arugula, asparagus, beets, carrots, cilantro, chard, broccolini, edible flowers, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuces, mint, mustard greens, radishes, leeks, parsley and sunflower sprouts. Most things are not marked “local” on the menu, but chances are good they might be. Just ask if you are curious; staff is knowledgeable and friendly.
In spring Hartford likes to use broccolini as much as possible. “I don’t like broccoli, and broccolini doesn’t taste as ‘cabbagey.’ It’s a little more bitter and at the same time sweeter. It has a much more complex flavor than broccoli,” she says.
With its dark green florets and leafy stems, broccolini often gets confused with baby broccoli or broccoli rabe (also known as rapini). To set the record straight, broccolini is a recent vegetable created in 1993 by a Japanese seed company that created a hybrid between broccoli and kai-lan, a variety of Chinese kale. Compared to broccoli, broccolini has smaller florets, an occasional yellow flower and longer, thin stalks.
Broccoli rabe, on the other hand, is part of the turnip family. The flavor is pleasantly bitter because it is actually in the same family as turnips, which explains why its leaves look similar to turnip or mustard greens. Compared to broccolini, it has longer stems, smaller florets and spikier leaves.
Despite the fact that these three vegetables (broccoli, broccolini and broccoli rabe) are not in the same family, they look alike, taste and smell similar and are often used interchangeably in recipes. As dark leafy greens, they all provide about 27 no-fat, no-cholesterol calories per cup, and are loaded with vitamins A, C and K, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants.
Hartford clearly understands these health benefits. “It’s great that you can use the whole plant because it is delicious and just loaded with good stuff,” she says while sautéing a large plateful of greens during my late April visit.
If you purchase broccolini in a store, chances are good it will not have leaves and may look rather naked. The florets are delicious, but if possible, you don’t want to miss out on the greens that offer lots of nutrition and great sauté options. If you buy it at a local growers’ market, farmers do not discard the leaves.
Hartford’s hopes her supply of broccolini will continue through midMay. In fall it will make another appearance. Like other brassicas, broccolini doesn’t like when it gets too hot outside.
Watching Hartford sauté the greens is a lesson in simplicity. Because broccolini stalks are tender, they cook quickly and are delicious. The deep greens glisten and the smell of garlic is tantalizing.
After reserving a few bites for her late lunch, the remainder of Hartford’s sautéed broccolini is destined for her next batch of popular frittatas.
Buying locally grown ingredients for a restaurant or your home is a commitment, but the freshness can make a world of difference to the flavors you create.
“Buying local is more time consuming, but it’s what I love to do. It’s part of our mission. It’s the way I’ve always cooked for myself,” Hartford explains. “The trickiest part is basing the menu on what I think I’m going to get. Sometimes that sends me running.”
Hartford says she keeps her prices reasonable by not keeping a big inventory, using ingredients in more than one dish and not wasting much. “If we have leftover French toast from Sunday brunch, it will be a daily special on Monday and people love it. It’s just like home.”
Whether you eat in or take out, Hartford Square is a great place to be inspired by the seasons, to discover what local farmers are growing and to see what Hartford is in the mood to cook that week.
Hartford Square, 300 Broadway NE, is open seven days a week. Street parking in front. Neighborhood delivery and catering are available.