Steamed Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta

I had three babies in the 1980’s. With each pregnancy I craved particular foods…well, after I finally stopped heaving up everything that even remotely resembled food. Ultimate nausea for months.

Anyway, as I was saying, each pregnancy came with its own unique food cravings. Interestingly enough, the very things that I craved with each individual pregnancy became my children’s favorite food(s) as they grew up. Matt loves burgers, pizza, and those dry, powdered sugar covered raspberry donuts that come in a box of 6. Katie loves those extremely cheap frozen Totino’s pizzas and peanut butter. And Tricia loves peanut butter and broccoli (not together).

Yes, I actually craved broccoli when I was pregnant with Tricia. So strange. I was obsessed with eating broccoli, almost driven to eat it.  Then, as soon as Tricia was old enough to start eating solid food (only 5 months old), she would gobble down the broccoli every time I made it for dinner. I didn’t mash it up for her, she would just grab a piece of broccoli and chomp away at it.

One night when Tricia was 6 years old, my husband and I went out on a date. Let’s see, that would have been in 1991–back during the advent of the cellphone, a.k.a the days of ‘the brick’. Ummhmm, we had a brick. John used to strap it to his hip like a gunslinger in an old Western. It was a little embarrassing hauling that thing around, we were some of the few people who had a ‘cell phone’, but John’s employer had provided it for him, so we used it. Actually, it was a good idea for us to have it because our kids were a bit on the wild side and it was nice, sort of, to know that the babysitter could contact us in case of an emergency.

On this particular night we had only been gone from home for about 10 minutes when the phone rang. I braced myself for the inevitable disaster as I answered the phone. Surprisingly, it was Tricia’s voice that I heard, not the babysitter’s voice. “Mom,” she said. “Can I have the rest of the broccoli?”

True story. What kid calls and asks if they can have the rest of the broccoli? And as a parent, what do you say to that question? “Well, have you eaten all of your ice cream and candy? No more broccoli until you finish your dessert. You know the rules.” I stifled my laughter and respectfully told her that it would be okay for her to have the last of the broccoli. In my mind’s eye, I could see her sitting there at the table quietly finishing it off. So cute.

Our family has eaten a lot of broccoli over the years. One of my favorite ways of preparing it used to be with a cheese sauce. It has been a long time since I have prepared it that way, often opting instead to prepare it steamed crisp tender and then sprinkled with lemon pepper. It’s an excellent combination. For some reason, however, I just got in the mood for broccoli with cheese sauce recently. Maybe it’s the cold weather.

The crispy fried pancetta is a new addition and added a subtle complimentary flavor. Of course bacon could be used in place of the pancetta. I wouldn’t eat broccoli prepared like this every day, but it was nice for a change, nice to have memories from ‘the old days’. I would, however, eat my weight in this healthier, revamped Broccoli Salad from my nursing school days.

Tip: As you probably know, there are some varieties of broccoli that come with a large stalk. I used to get frustrated about having to waste so much of the broccoli because of the inedible, woody stalk. Then one day I learned that the tough outer part of the stalk can be removed with a vegetable peeler, exposing the tender and very tasty broccoli stem beneath. Now, whenever I serve broccoli, we consider the stem portion to be the ultimate broccoli prize. It actually tastes better then the broccoli heads.

Steamed Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta

Terri @ that's some good cookin'


  • 3 heads broccoli
  • salt, to taste
  • 2-3 ounces (weight) paper thin pancetta
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • sprinkle of white pepper


  1. Place a small amount of water in an appropriate sized sauce pot. Place a steamer basket in the pot over the water. Bring the water to a boil while prepping the broccoli.
  2. Rinse the broccoli well under cool running water. Divide the broccoli heads into florets. If desired, using a vegetable peeler remove the woody outer portion of the broccoli stalks. Cut stalks to desired size.
  3. When the water is boiling, place the broccoli in the steamer basket, lightly salt if desired, and cover with tight fitting lid. Steam until broccoli is slightly past crisp-tender and still bright green in color.
  4. While the broccoli is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. In a medium sauce pot over medium high heat cook the pancetta until brown and crispy. Do not overcook. Remove pancetta from pan and place on paper towel to drain.
  5. Lower the heat to medium and melt the butter in the pan.
  6. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk together until smooth. Cook until bubbly.
  7. Lower the heat to low and whisk in the salt, dry mustard, and a dash of white pepper.
  8. Whisk in the milk until mixture is smooth. Cook and stir until bubbly and sauce thickens. If sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If too thin, cook over low heat until reduced to desired thickness.
  9. Turn off heat. Stir in the shredded cheese until cheese has melted and sauce is smooth. Pour sauce over broccoli. Sprinkle with crumbled/chopped pancetta. Serve immediately.

Tutorial on Peeling Broccoli Stalks
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta
 Certain types of broccoli have thick stalks with short-stemmed florets. The outer portion of the stalks are woody and fibrous. However, beneath the tough covering is a tender and delicious center.
/Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta
 With a good quality vegetable peeler (sharp), peel away the tough exterior.
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta
In this picture, I have peeled away a portion of the exterior to get to the tender interior. See the striations of the inedible exterior running vertically up and down the stalk? Near the end of the stalk I have left a little of the tough part of the stalk so that you can see what it looks like as you shave this away. The good, edible part of the stalk is easily visible.
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta
 Here is the good stuff, ready to be cut up and cooked. It really is the best part of the broccoli.
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and Pancetta
 Sometimes I cut the stalk crosswise, particularly if it is a thin stalk. However, this was a very thick stalk, so I decided to cut it lengthwise. Cook the stalk along with the florets; everything cooks at the same speed.

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce and PancettaThis is a lovely bunch of goodness, just waiting to make your mouth happy.




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