I stumbled upon this recipe originally many years ago because I had a heap of broccoli and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I wasn’t especially a fan, but Dave was. Because I’d never cooked it much, I didn’t have much of a repertoire of recipes. Personally, of that family of veg, I’d go for cauliflower every time.
I found the recipe in a margin of Stephanie Alexander’s original The Cook’s Companion, very unpromisingly titled “broccoli as a sauce for pasta”. At that stage I could not even imagine what that might mean, or what that might look like.
It seemed so very unlikely, but I trusted her.
On the plus side it included a couple of other things I knew were very high on Dave’s list of food loves: olives and anchovies. In a generous mood, I decided to go for it.
The result was a smash hit. Delicious, simple, healthy, ultimately destined to be one of my regulars. I like to vary what I cook a lot so I don’t have too many staple meals, but this instantly become one.
It really started my conversion to being a broccoli fan. I tried growing it a couple of years ago, but I discovered that broccoli is a supermagnet for caterpillars – so many I was astounded. They came in their thousands. I have since learned that some gardeners will use broccoli as a decoy crop, since the bugs will go for that and leave everything else alone.
With this dish, I made something closer to the original version when I was in northern Italy earlier this year, with a more bitter green veg, locally handmade orecchiette pasta and some very large heavily salted anchovies, and that was fantastic. Forgive the repetition, but while the recipe is pretty much the same, the shift in ingredients creates something different.
This is for two. I tend to go heavy on the broccoli and lighter on the pasta quantities, but adjust to your own tastes.
Boil a large pot of water, enough to cook the pasta, though don’t put it in yet. Don’t salt it.
Chop up 1 large head of broccoli (or 2 small), including the stem. Put the stem ends in first, and when the water is boiling again, put in the florets. Leave just a couple of minutes, and lift the vegetable out, and put it aside. Pour a little extra virgin olive oil over.
Now put in the pasta in that broccoli water. It should be orecchiette, which is the traditional style of pasta for this dish. If you don’t have that, the bowtie pasta works quite well, but any will do in a pinch.
Meanwhile, in a heavy frypan, heat some olive oil and put in 6-8 decent-sized anchovies and let them melt. This will spit quite a bit. Add about 20-30 olives (more or less depending on taste), cut in halves or thirds and without pits. I usually use black, but green or a mix can work very well too.
Toss all of that into the cooked, drained pasta and stir it up.
TOPPING: the traditional topping for this is not parmesan (though we often do anyway), but toasted fresh breadcrumbs. It actually is a perfect match.
Verdict: One of my all-time favourites.