Pasta With Broccoli Sauce

Up until a month ago when I put on my grown up pants and got a fo’ realz salaried job, I worked part-time at a Boston gift shop that sold books and various patriotic fare to the tourist masses.

Some of the more popular books were cookbooks based on Boston’s most famous restaurants and quintessential cusines: The Union Oyster House Cookbook, Legal Seafoods Cookbook, How to Host a Clambake, etc.

I spent a lot of time at said gift shop drooling over one, The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane (I’m not totally 100% up on my Italian these days, but I’m 99% sure her last name translates to “good bread.” Amazing).

For those not in the know, the North End is Boston’s “Little Italy” (but don’t call it “Little Italy” if you visit… big tourist no-no) and it feels like a little corner of the city that was caught in time. It quite honestly feels like a neighborhood that was grabbed from a little Tuscan city and plopped down in the middle of Boston. Needless to say, the food is a-mazing.

The day I left, I decided to use my 40% discount to purchase the book to add to my ever-growing cookbook collection. Sure, half the book is unusable to me because I don’t eat meat, but the other half of the recipes sound like they’re straight out of my Nonna’s kitchen, and since my Nonna will probably take those recipes to the grave with her, I figured it was worth the investment.

On the subway ride home, I skimmed through some of the recipes and was immediately struck by one recipe in particular: Pasta With Broccoli Sauce. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very climactic, but trust me, this is just the recipe I’ve been needing…

I’ve been cooking a lot for myself lately because le boyfriend just got a job with mostly night hours. One person meals are tough, and I often don’t feel the motivation to cook more extravagantly than pasta with pre-made tomato sauce (for shame!).

The poor vegetables in my fridge have been perpetually ignored for the past two weeks, leaving me with approximately a pound and a half of wilting broccoli, which is incidentally the key ingredient in Pasta with Broccoli Sauce.

I love broccoli… which is a good thing because growing up, we ate it at EVERY meal, no exaggeration. My mom was a broccoliaholic and would brag to the neighbors about how she didn’t believe in force-feeding kids milk, just broccoli, because (as she claims) it has more calcium, more iron and is basically god’s gift to childhood nutrition.

I’m 5’11”. I chalk that up to genetics. My mom chalks it up to broccoli.

Anyways, back in the day, when my mom was my age living in Boston, she supposedly ate pasta with broccoli sauce EVERY night. I guess after awhile she got so sick of it that she refused to ever make me her once favorite recipe, but seeing it right there in my new cookbook, I had to try it.

It’s painstakingly easy, but I wish the cookbook was a little clearer on directions. You’ll see in a minute when I post it below, but I was a little confused as to whether I was supposed to let the sauce keep cooking while the pasta was boiling or whether I was supposed to only cook it for a few minutes and let it sit. Each way yields vastly different results — the former an actual chunky sauce made of broccoli, the latter an oil sauce with a crunchy broccoli garnish. I chose to cook it the long way and make the broccoli soft and saucy. I think it was a good choice, but I would recommend more spice and more cheese than the recipe calls for:

Pasta with Broccoli Sauce (as adapted from the North End Italian Cookbook)

  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 1/2 a cup of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes (I would increase this to a tablespoon or more)
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1/2 pound pasta (she recommends ziti, gnocchi or small shells. I used spaghetti because it was all I had)
  • 1/3 of a cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cut off and discard about 1/2 inch of the end of the broccoli stem. Cut the broccoli into flowerets. Trim the tough leaves, peel the stems and cut them into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Set all the pieces aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or medium-sized saucepan. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper. Saute slowly on low heat until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the pan from the burner and gently pour in the 3 cups of warm water to start the sauce. Let the water-and-oil sauce oil briskly for a minute, then add the cut broccoli. Cook on medium heat to a soft boiling stage. Add more salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste.
  3. Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving some of the water before draining. (This can be added to sauce if more broth is desired.)
  4. Put the drained pasta in a large skillet and pour the cooked broccoli sauce on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Or to make it peasant-style (Ma’s way), add the cooked pasta to the pan of broccoli, toss a couple of times until well mixed, then serve. Sprinkle each serving with more Parmesan or Romano cheese.
It’s supposed to serve six, but when was the last time you saw a 1/2 pound of pasta feed 6 hungry mouths? It’s also delicious cold, as breakfast this morning proved to me 🙂
Sadly, I neglected to take any photos until I was already halfway though my meal. Here’s a glimpse anyway, just so you get the idea:

Delicious! Just be sure to not skimp on the cheeeese!

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