Saturday, April 26, 2014


Broccoli, like its cauliflower cousin, has a certain fame -- that of being gross.  It's not that broccoli is, by nature, icky.  It's just that generations of American only know what happens when you over-boil it -- gobs of bland broccoli.  When roasted or pan-seared, broccoli can caramelize.  Instead of squishy sludge, you develop a pan-crisped bite.  Even kids will happily nosh on this.

In Italy's heel, broccoli adorns the region's orecchiette pasta.  Literally meaning "little ears," this semolina pasta offers a chewy vessel for sauces or vegetables.  This recipe flash-boils the broccoli and then sautes it in a slurry of garlic, olive oil and anchovies.  Once blanched, the broccoli loses its characteristic bitterness and sops up the oil's savory flavor.  Breadcrumbs add a final crunch.

Photo credit: Cravatta ai fornelli
  • 1 head of broccoli, florets cut in 1/2-inch to 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs or panko
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 anchovy filets, chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of dried pasta, preferably orecchiette 
  • 1/2 of a lemon, juiced
Photo credit: Bon Appetit magazine
Trim the broccoli. First, cut the florets from the main stem. You should have one main stalk and 4-5 clusters of florets. Then, cut the florets again in half.  Repeat this step if necessary — until your the florets around the same size or 1/2-inch or 1-inch in width.  Now, cut off the bottom 2 inches of the main broccoli stalk. It is tough and can be thrown out.  With a vegetable peeler, skin the remaining  stalk until you can see the pale green “flesh” underneath. Chop the tender stalk into 1-inch sticks.

Photo credit: Bon Appetit magazine
Bring the pasta water to a rolling boil.  Add the orecchiette, cooking accordin to the package. 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli florets to the boiling pasta water.  Do not add the 1-inch sticks of the stalk.  While the florets and pasta are cooking, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium.  Add the garlic and anchovies, stirring until the garlic has become aromatic and the anchovies have started to break down (1 minute).  If you like, you can add 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes at this point.

Photo credit: Semplice veloce
Add the sticks of broccoli stalk to the anchovy/oil mixture.  Sear them over medium-high heat.  Pay attention to the pan, lowering the heat if it starts to smoke or the garlic starts to brown. When searing, it’s best not to disturb the vegetables. No stirring. No flipping. Leave the broccoli stalks in the hot pan, untouched, for 2 minutes. They’re done when the bottom has turned golden.

Remove the broccoli florets from the boiling water and transfer to the pan with the oil and seared stalks.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Add 1 ladle of the pasta water (or 1/2 cup of white wine) to the pan of broccoli.  Simmer — covered — for 4 minutes.

While the broccoli mixture is simmering, toast the breadcrumbs.  To toast them, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to another saute pan. Heat the oil over medium and then mix in the breadcrumbs, stirring until crisped and golden-brown.  Remove crumbs from the flame when toasted.

Pour the cooked orecchiette directly into the pan with the simmered broccoli, cooking for a final 2 minutes over medium-high.  Before serving, dress the pasta with the toasted breadcrumbs and a spritz of lemon juice.  Plate immediately.

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