I won’t lie: often enough when I see a recipe that kicks off by underlining the importance of technique, I proceed warily: isn’t that just code for “this is going to be a lot of work”?
I don’t mind putting in some time in the kitchen (for goodness sakes, I’m writing a food blog here). I do weird things like making my own yogurt and nurturing a little jar of sourdough in the fridge (though I’ll admit that neither of those activities require a Herculean effort, or much effort at all). And I can’t argue that it’s not worth it. But a soft-focus daydreamy vision of myself, in slow motion, pulling a steamy lasagna out of the oven–with homemade sheets of pasta of course–made with locally foraged mushrooms and herbs will have to wait for the weekend. (Well, the foraging–frankly that’s not going to happen any weekend because hunting down wild mushrooms freaks me out. And furthermore I am a disaster at homemade pasta). The other five days of the week have to submit to the practicalities of the fact that I can’t start making dinner until about 6pm.
On top of this, it’s often a challenge to build a meal with a vegetable as a starring role–at least for me. I often feeling like I’m eating a compilation of side dishes with no unifying center. Some garlicky greens, a swipe of a cracker through a jar of hummus, a carrot, a few olives, too many slices of bread and cheese, some scrounging for a cookie, a handful of my kids’ cereal…
This recipe that I’m going to tell you about, from Marcella Hazan‘s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is one I’ve actually ignored for some time. It just sounded, well, boring. Chopped boiled broccoli stirred together with pasta and some cheese on top? But for some reason (I had broccoli, I had pasta, this recipe sounded easy and fast–and on a Friday evening, that was enough) I finally gave it a try. Except for the broccoli of course, all the ingredients are either pantry items or the refrigerator equivalent, so I hardly had to think too much before starting.
Of course, using umami-packed anchovies and good cheese goes a long way towards ensuring a simple dish has tons of satisfying flavor. But (bringing me full circle in this post), the real revelation here was the technique and Hazan’s detailed instructions on–yes–how to boil broccoli.
I’m well aware it may sound silly to go on and on about “how” to boil something, but it really does makes all the difference: the stems are tender, with no unwelcome rawness at the core, while the florets, which often suffer the reverse fate, are firm and green. Peeling is quick and easy and ensures there’s no unpleasant, tough skin on the stalks. Giving the stems a 2 minute lead in the boiling process ensures each piece is perfectly cooked, and the salted water keeps them freshly green and verdant. And I had independent confirmation: my husband, not knowing the secret tricks I had employed, commented on how good the broccoli was. (I’ll forgive him the shock and surprise in his voice. I had the same reaction).
I wish there were more kitchen tricks that produced such a winning effect for such minimal effort. Sadly, there’s not as many as any of us would like, but rest assured I’m keeping my eyes peeled. In the meantime, grab some broccoli, and enjoy a weeknight dinner in short order!
Pasta with Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
- One bunch of broccoli (about 1 1/2 lbs)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 2 hot dried chili peppers or chili flakes, to taste
- 12 ounces pasta, such as orecchiette, fusille, concilige (3/4 a standard box)
- 2T parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1/4c pecorino romano cheese (grated; i.e. twice the amount of parmesan)
Bring salted water to the boil. Meanwhile, remove the broccoli stems from the florets. Peel the broccoli stems using a vegetable peeler or a paring knife. When the water boils, add the stems only, and once the water returns to a boil, wait 2 minutes. Add the florets, return to the boil, wait one minute, and remove the broccoli. (You can reserve the water for making the pasta). When cool enough to handle, cut the broccoli stalks into 1/2 inch dice and break up the florets even more.
Return the water to a boil. Chop the anchovies finely; they will start to almost form a paste as you do so. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the anchovies, and move the saucepan over the pot of boiling water (so as to improvise a double-boiler). Stir the anchovies for a minute or two until they disintegrate. (Note, that this setup is not an extra step as you must boil water anyway for the pasta. I have cooked the anchovies over the lowest possible flame but this is a safer method and at least here there’s no reason not to: you already have the setup ready to go).
Add the broccoli (florets and stalks) and the chili, and return to the burner over medium heat. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Invert into a large bowl.
Boil the pasta until al dente, following the suggested timing on your package. Add to the broccoli mixture.
Stir the broccoli sauce together with the pasta, add the cheese, stir and serve.
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