Choppin’ Broccoli {broccoli pasta}

As is the case with many in my generation, I have had the great opportunity to travel, study and live abroad in my not-so-long-life. My first trip off the continent was when I was 15. I traveled with my high school Spanish class to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia and Cordoba for semana santa – holy week. I vividly remember that terrific feeling of stepping off a plane in a foreign country for the first time – exhausted from layovers in Atlanta, Houston and a 7 hour stint at Schipol but excited to be somewhere completely unlike anywhere else I’d ever been. To this day, the smell of bus fumes mixed with cigarette smoke from weary passengers waiting for cabs is distinctly European and one of my favorite smells in the world. Not for the sweet toxicity but because it is a harbinger of an adventure that awaits.

I have mentioned before that I was a picky eater as a child but amazingly I’m even more proud than I am picky and this trait has always trumped my fear of eating things I didn’t like or couldn’t translate. Heaven forbid someone think that I am the “typical American” relying on KFC and picture menus. I have managed to create a travel persona that hinges on this idea of fitting in wherever I go. That means no walking around in Nikes, no fleece jackets and absolutely no large folding maps. The bad part is my extreme stubbornness. The good part is I’ve had to eat a lot of things I wouldn’t have tried otherwise in order to maintain said persona.

In most cases, my parents’ generation has had a different experience. My father’s first trip outside North America came in 2006 when he and my stepmom visited me in Paris where I was living at the time. My husband’s parents’ first non-American adventure came this past fall. They traveled to the Netherlands for a conference and decided they would also make their way to Italy – the homeland for my mother-in-law – while they were on the continent. Because of our previous travels, my husband and I were able to recommend a favorite restaurant in Florence that we had visited twice on our trip in 2002.

It was great fun to hear about their trip and compare notes on some of our favorite places. As you can imagine, most of our discussion centered on meals (and wine) but one in particular stood out. As we discussed the not-so-Italian-sounding pasta sampler at Acqua al 2 in Firenze, my father-in-law mentioned one of his favorites – the pasta with broccoli. In typical Italian fashion, this pasta is so delicious and made from such simple ingredients: pasta, broccoli and some cheese. He challenged me back in October to recreate this dish and I took that to heart.

I did a little bit of research (very little) and settled on these ingredients:

  • 2 heads broccoli – just the florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, finely grated
  • 1/2 lb. orecchiette
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup pasta cooking water
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Let’s get started.

I’m a lady. I went downtown. I bought some broccoli. I brought it home – I’m choppin’ broccoli. You should too. In fact, go ahead and get things in order: chop and rinse your broccoli, mince the garlic and set aside and grate your cheese. Grab a large stock pot and fill it with salted water. This is for the broccoli and the pasta. You’ll also need one large saute pan.

Bring the water to a boil and cook your broccoli until it begins to get tender – approximately 4-5 minutes. I love how green it becomes.

When it’s tender, go ahead and use a slotted spoon or spider to fish it out of the water. We’ll be using the same water that you cooked the broccoli in to cook the pasta.

The rest of this meal comes together pretty quickly. While the pasta is cooking, heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in your large saute pan and cook the garlic and red pepper flakes for 30 seconds.

Now add in the cooked broccoli.

Start to break up the broccoli with a spoon as you cook it.

While the pasta is cooking, be sure to set aside about a cup of the cooking water for the sauce. Pasta water is flavorful and salty and starchy and brings sauces together better than just about anything.

When the pasta is al dente, it’s time to bring this all together. Drain the pasta and add it to the broccoli in the saute pan. Add the grated cheese and 1/2 cup of pasta water and stir to combine. You may need to add more water – I did.

Stir everything together until combined and heated through and serve.

I thought this was delicious. I’m sure it’s not as good as the original in Florence but maybe that’s only because we’re not in Italy. But if you feel like pretending you are – this is as good a way as any.