Stuff I Do

Eating History 3: Broccoli Italienne

In 2014 and 2015, I inherited recipes written by the women in my family, including my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Based on the dates they were alive, these recipes likely span from 1900-1985.  I’m making them by following the original instructions as closely as I can. This is my history.

It’s been awhile, right? I’m back to testing out my family’s old recipes, and today’s is about as typical of the recipes as they come. This recipe is on the back of the card for “Ethel Miller’s  Casserole,” which I never did blog but that we liked well enough to make multiple times. When I first read this recipe card I thought “okay, it’s got some mayo in it to extend the cheese further. No problem.” Then I looked at the exact ratio of ingredients…


Y’all.  That is a lot of mayo. That’s twice as much mayo as cheese.  Not only that, it’s actually Miracle Whip, which is what the “salad dress.” refers to. They’re different things in my grandmother’s world, and I do think the tangier Miracle Whip was what was meant here.

As usual with these recipes, there’s some substitutions I need to make. I do not have Miracle Whip. What I have is mayo made with olive oil because it doesn’t contain mustard and therefore won’t cause Becca to have a reaction to it. Close enough?

I learned from a previous foray that shredded Velveeta exists, and I thought about doing that here. I hesitated for two reasons: 1) I only needed 1/4 cup, leading me with about 1 3/4 cup to use elsewhere, and 2) I’m supposed to have “sharp” processed cheese.  Velveeta has a really mild flavor, so I opted for “sharp” being more important than “processed.”


The first oddity was when I was told to put the oregano in the water with the broccoli. Why? Who knows! The final dish didn’t taste particularly strongly of oregano, but I imagine that’s the “Italienne” part. I needed 2 pounds of fresh broccoli; I had a 1 pound bag of frozen broccoli. In this case, I really didn’t think it would matter because I could adjust the amount of sauce later. It honestly didn’t seem to make a difference.

While I’m usually a fairly careful cook, I had completely missed that this used a double boiler. I don’t have a double boiler, but I can improvise one … provided all my pots are not being used for other things. Since I was simultaneously boiling the broccoli and making Stove Top while I was making the sauce, it wasn’t going to be possible. I shrugged, and put it on the stove on “warm.”

And then I started to stir. And stir. And after five minutes of stirring, I was starting to really wish I had used processed cheese that would actually melt. With some trepidation, I bumped the heat up to low and kept stirring. After 10 minutes of stirring constantly, I had begun to suspect that my cheese and mayo would remain ever separate – and that I had broken my sauce by heating it too much. I turned the heat back down to medium and negligently stirred it while getting the pork and stuffing onto the plates. When I was ready, I had a faintly orange-colored sauce that was both lumpy and oily from my attempt to get the cheese to melt. I was skeptical. I also wasn’t going to dump it on the broccoli until I had tried it.


It was actually pretty okay. It was tangy, of course, but the sharpness of the cheese did actually come through. And it certainly helped dress up a boring bag of frozen broccoli. We ate it with dinner and agreed that it was pretty good for something that was two-thirds hot mayonnaise. We didn’t save the remaining sauce, since I can’t imagine that it would reheat well at all, and I won’t be making this again. But it honestly wasn’t that bad.

Broccoli Italienne*

(Makes 8 servings?)

  • 2 lbs broccoli
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1/2 c mayo or Miracle Whip
  • 1/4 c shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 T milk

Cook broccoli until tender in boiling water with oregano. Drain.

In top of double boiler, mix mayonnaise, cheese, and milk. Heat over hot water (not boiling) stirring til cheese melts and mix is hot.

Top broccoli laid out on hot platter.

*I’ve cleaned up the recipe slightly by standardizing the abbreviations and adding information where it may be otherwise unclear. Everything else is as it was written.