With three teenagers I always seem to be in the car. Driving them to one or another of their sport or extracurricular commitments. More often than not I’m stuck in traffic. Listening to the radio. The other day I happened to eavesdrop on a talk back segment about broccoli. Or more specifically a rather animated and illuminating conversation about whether broccoli should be sold by weight after the stalks have been removed. The consensus seemed to be that as no-one actually eats the stalks, growers should perhaps remove them before bringing the broccoli to market. I was stunned. Obviously these listeners hadn’t grown up in an Italian mama’s kitchen where the maxim “waste not, want not” was the mantra of the day.
We’ve always eaten broccoli stalks in our house. They have all the flavour and nutrition of the florets and are often sweeter. In fact one of my family’s most loved pasta dishes is a classic southern Italian dish that utilises the whole head of broccoli. Stalk and all. The florets are separated from their stems and cooked until soft in the same water as the pasta. The stalks are trimmed and diced and gently sautéed garlic, chilli and anchovies in butter and olive oil. The two components are combined at the last moment. Absolutely delicious served with a generous grating of parmesan or pecorino cheese.
Pasta With Broccoli, Pancetta, Chilli And Garlic
500g dried pasta, I like to use orrechiette, casarecce or penne
2 small heads of broccoli
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
80g pancetta or bacon. finely diced
5 anchovy fillets (optional)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 long red chillies, finely chopped
sea salt and pepper
grated parmesan or pecorino to serve
PREPARE the broccoli by removing the florets and breaking them into small bite size pieces. Trim and discard any larger woody part of the stalks. Slice the remaining tender stalks into a small dice.
HEAT a tablespoon olive oil in a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and fry until crispy.
REDUCE heat to low and add the remaining oil and butter. When the butter has melted add the garlic, chili and anchovies, sauté for 3 minutes being very careful not to burn the garlic, then add the broccoli stalks. Stir gently to combine.
COVER the pan and cook on a very low heat another 10-15 minutes until the stalks are very soft. Take pan off the heat. Season to taste.
MEANWHILE bring a large pot of salted water to the oil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When the pasta is half-cooked add the broccoli florets. Continue to cook the pasta for the recommended cooking time.
DRAIN the pasta and broccoli, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.
ADD pasta and broccoli to the sauce. Stir well to coat adding a little of the pasta cooking water to make a creamy sauce.
SERVE immediately with a good grating of parmesan or pecorino cheese.