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Making full use of the blender

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – How’s your relationship with your blender going? Does it sit in the cabinet tucked behind the waffle maker? If so, it might be time to pull it out again and get reacquainted.

The appliance, which was the hot new gadget in home kitchens in the 1930s, is a reliable old standby that can be your partner in cutting the effort when making soups, popovers, batters, salad dressings as well as, of course, smoothies.

It also can be a godsend when you’re looking for a shortcut for a weeknight supper. That’s because blender sauces are so versatile and easy to whip up. Consider a blender marinara, hollandaise or how about this week’s recipe: Rigatoni With Broccoli Lemon Sauce.

In this recipe from Milk Street Vegetables by Christopher Kimball, you boil broccoli and garlic until it is crisp-tender, about five minutes, before transferring it to a blender with about one and half cups of the blanching water and capers. The mixture is blended while you stream in oil to create a smooth, bright green sauce.

Then, you boil pasta in the same water as that broccoli, drain it, toss it with the sauce, some freshly grated Parmesan and lemon zest and juice. The recipe calls for toasted walnuts and fresh basil, but you can adjust that and serve it with leftover rotisserie chicken or quick-poached shrimp and any favourite herbs, nuts or seeds.

But don’t make this sauce and then slip that appliance back into that dark cabinet. If you’ve still got it handy, pull out the manual or go to the blender manufacturer’s website to refresh your memory about all of the other things it can do as a stand-in for an immersion blender, a food processor, grinder, grater and even a stand mixer.

In recent weeks, I’ve used mine to make whipped cream: Put a cup of heavy cream in the pitcher and blend on low until it is thick and smooth, pulsing toward the end. I’ve turned stale and well-toasted (and well-cooled) bread into breadcrumbs with a few pulses. I’ve used it to grind nuts and seeds, but use caution and pulse toward the end, so you’re not left with nut butter.

Rigatoni with broccoli lemon sauce. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

I even used it when I needed to grate a large amount of hard cheese, such as the cup of Parmesan – plus more for sprinkling at the table because I always want more cheese – for this recipe: Grind it in batches by cutting it into roughly half-inch cubes and hitting it with pulses until it is the right consistency.

That’s not say that the blender can stand in for the food processor or stand mixer in every case. While it is great for most recipes that call for pureeing, you do cede some control with a blender. For example, you’ll get fluffier whipped cream and be able to reach your desired soft or stiff peaks if you whip it using a mixer. If making a sauce, dip or salsa, a food processor, which has a more shallow bowl, moves at a slower speed and has interchangeable blades, can provide more even pieces and give you control over consistency.

That said: The blender is great in a pinch and can probably do more than you imagine.

Another reason I like to use it as a timesaver is that it is so easy to clean. Fill the pitcher three quarter of the way with hot water, add a drop of dish soap and blend a few times.

Then, rinse well and dry. (Some blender pitchers and tops can go into the dishwasher, but check the manual for yours to be sure.)

As I recently used mine more, I felt like I had gotten back in touch with a trusted old friend. You know, the one who you haven’t called in a while, but who is always there for you.

RIGATONI WITH BROCCOLI LEMON SAUCE

Broccoli and cheese get blended into a silky sauce in this recipe from Milk Street Vegetables by Christopher Kimball. The broccoli gets simmered just until tender – cooking it too long dulls the colour. That puree is tossed with rigatoni and sprinkled with toasted walnuts and fresh basil, which give the dish texture and brightness.

INGREDIENTS

One tablespoon fine salt, plus more to taste

One pound broccoli crowns, cut into one-inch pieces

Four medium cloves garlic, peeled

One tablespoon drained capers

Quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

One pound rigatoni or ziti pasta

One cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

One tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus two tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from one lemon)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh basil leaves, for serving

Toasted, chopped walnuts, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, bring four quarts of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of salt, the broccoli and garlic and cook until the broccoli is crisp-tender, four to six minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli and garlic to the pitcher of a blender; keep the water at a boil.

Transfer about one and a half cups of the water to the blender (reserve the remainder), along with the capers. Blend until smooth, then, with the machine running, stream in the oil.

Add the pasta to the remaining boiling water and cook according to the package instructions, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving the water, and return the pasta to the pot.

Add the broccoli puree, parmesan, and lemon zest and juice; toss to combine, adding reserved water as needed, so the pasta is lightly sauced.

Taste and season with pepper and more salt to taste, as needed.

Transfer to a large bowl or platter or spoon into individual bowls and sprinkle with basil, walnuts and additional cheese, if desired, and serve.

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