For years, Santa Maria and I had a fallback, no-name weeknight recipe involving broccoli and pasta. It was the kind of thing we could throw together at a moment's notice, but more often than not, I found it lacking. Unless I was completely starving, it tasted poorly conceived, and it gave me the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing.
So I dropped it from my rotation.
But the other day Santa Maria had a massive vegetable craving, and she proposed the dish for lunch. I decided to try making it again, but this time I was armed with experience, and the new issue of Bon Appétit, which has a great article on how to make better pasta. I tried out a few of their suggested a few tricks, such as:
- Building a base for the sauce in a sauté pan. (I started with garlic and crushed red peppers.)
- Using lots of salt in the pasta water.
- Saving the pasta water for the sauce.
- Under cooking the pasta, and finishing it in the sauté pan.
- Grating in a bunch of cheese into the sauté pan.
I was very pleased with the results. By slightly adjusting my technique, I turned a lousy weeknight dish into a delicious and well rounded meal. It didn't have enough protein for me in the end, but it tasted mighty fine. I'll keep experimenting with the recipe to see if I can add a bit of meat—I'm thinking prosciutto or sausage—to it without upsetting its balance. That's the plan for next time, and with these new techniques, I'm sure I'll continue to get it right. (If you want the full Bon Appétit article, it is available online.)
Naked Broccoli and Pasta
- 1 head broccoli, washed and cut into floretes
- 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers, or to taste
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half, and thinly sliced (or to taste)
- 1/2 cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put the pasta water on to boil.
Cook the pasta to within about two minutes of being finished (a little white inside is perfect) reserving the cooking liquid.
Steam the broccoli until it is tender but firm; set aside.
In a large pan sauté the garlic and peppers in a bit of olive oil.
Once the garlic is soft and about to brown, add the broccoli, and a few ladles of the pasta water.
Add the pasta and continue to cook until the pasta is finished, about a minute longer (add more water if it starts to stick).
Turn the heat off and finish with the cheese. There should only be a bit of liquid, and the strands of pasta and the broccoli should all be coated with it nicely.