First, get yourself a couple of bunches of nice, fresh, green broccoli. Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, with no yellowing. They also shouldnt have any blooming yellow flowers, as this is a sign of over maturity. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots. If the leaves are still attached, they should be a deep, dark green and not wilted.
Cut off the florets, and halve any that are larger than about an inch in diameter. This is so that the broccoli will cook evenly. You can also use frozen broccoli florets in this dish. Doing so doesnt affect the quality at all. But, if you do go with frozen, dont thaw it before cooking or else it will get mushy.
Next, get out your best extra-virgin olive oil. A really good one will have a greenish tinge to it. Youll also need to slice up some fresh garlic cloves. Try to get them thin, but not too much so or else they may burn in the pan.
Heat the oil in a pan and gently sauté the garlic. You wont believe how fragrant that garlic gets! I always add some red pepper flakes too, because Im a fiery Italian woman.
Once the garlic is soft and lightly golden, toss in the broccoli, cover and cook.
When the broccoli is tender and just a tad bit browned, pour in a little of the pasta cooking water or chicken stock, and simmer until the broccoli is cooked through. What! You didnt forget about the pasta, did you? Sheesh! Thats why its called Pasta con Broccoli. Do I have to tell you everything?
The traditional pasta used in this dish is orecchiette, which means little ears. Orecchiette is a variety of pasta from Puglia, and is shaped like
well you know like little ears. Theyre perfect served in sauces and soups because their scoop-like shape traps bits of sauce or broth. Its like having a thousand mini bowls inside your plate. Most Publix markets carry it, but if you cant find orecchiette or just dont feel like using it, you can substitute any kind of short pasta, preferably one with a textured surface.
When your broccoli is nice and tender, add in the cooked pasta and toss. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil all over the top, sprinkle with grated cheese and youre done.
If you feel the need for a little more protein in the dish, you can add in some grilled shrimp, sausage or chicken tenders. You can even toss in a can of cannellini beans, chick peas or chunks of fresh mozzarella.
Pasta con Broccoli
1 pound dry short pasta like orecchiette
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) olive oil, plus extra as needed
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (If you like it hotter, add more.)
1 pound fresh or frozen broccoli florets
2/3 cup reserved pasta water or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated for sprinkling
1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, add pasta and cook according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Gently sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes until garlic fragrant and lightly golden. Be careful not to burn it!
3. Raise the heat up to medium-high and mix in the broccoli. Cover and cook until the broccoli is slightly browned and crisp tender. This will take about 8-10 minutes, depending on your stove. You will have to keep watch and stir often to make sure that it doesnt burn.
4. Add reserved pasta water or stock and simmer, uncovered, until liquid has reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes, and the broccoli nice and soft, but not mushy.
5. Toss with pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated cheese.
Serves 4-6 as a first course.
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