Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pasta with Broccoli and Pine Nuts

Supper last night was pasta with broccoli cut small before cooking then cooked again till it collapsed into a saucy consistency with aromatics and a late addition of olives and pine nuts. And of course cheese. The recipe is in River Cafe Pocket Book of Pasta. Reading it I liked the idea of different textures pointing up different flavours with the saltiness of the olives, the subtle heat of crumbled chillies, the sweet from slow cooked onions and the rich oily crunch of the pine nuts. Then I made it and I didn't much like the toasted nuts - they seemed too rich against the other ingredients. After that I remembered I'm not really a big fan of toasted pine nuts with pasta. Though I'm a big fan of pesto.

Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense pine nuts are seeds because nuts are seeds covered in a hard shell. They really do come from pine trees, the nuts are found inside the folds of the cones. They are difficult to harvest - using a long hook on a pole, the cones are pulled from the trees then laid out in the sun until the cones open enough to spill their contents. Then the shells are cracked and the pale ivory seed is extracted. Hence the high price everywhere for pine nuts.

Pine trees do well in sand so they can be planted near beaches and in parks. One of my abiding memories growing up in Australia is pine trees growing the length of what seemed like every beach in the country, giving shade to cars, stopping the sand eroding away into the sea and always dropping their prickly bits onto the ground to dig into tender bare feet on the way into the surf. In those days I'd never heard of pine nuts - who'd have thought such treasures were buried in the cones.

Pine nuts contain about 31 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts, the highest of any nut or seed. Because of their high fat content they become rancid very easily and should be stored in an air tight container for about three months in the fridge. Six to nine months in the freezer. The eating of pine nuts dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times when they were commonly preserved in honey.

Pasta with Broccoli and Pine Nuts

350g orecchiette pasta - the one shaped like little ears
1kg broccoli
100g black olives, stoned
2 small red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 tbs flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
60g pine nuts
100g Pecorino freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the broccoli heads into little florets and the smaller stalks into small pieces then cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 100ml of the cooking water.

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently fry the onion till golden. Add the garlic, chillies and fennel seeds, fry briefly then add the parsley. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the broccoli adn the reserved water. Continue to cook until the broccoli is broken up into a sauce. Add 3 tbs of olive oil, season and stir well.

Separately, fry the olives and pine nuts briefly in 1 tbs olive oil.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain, add the broccoli sauce then stir in the olives, pine nuts and half the pecorino. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled over.

We had leftovers cold for lunch and it was good. Though I felt when I ate it hot I probably wouldn't make it again with consideration I think I would, just without the nuts. The balance of flavour and textures was really pretty amazing with random little bombs of chilli, fennel and cheese in the midst of the the broccoli - be a shame to lose the lot for not liking just one thing.


Sarah-82 said...

I love the River Cafe Pocket books- I often carry the Pasta one in my handbag for a bit of inspiration when I'm rushing home from work!

bron said...

Know what you mean. When I first bought it I was going to cook every recipe starting at number 1, but it was winter and the first sauces are raw, the servings are tepid at best, and even if I could find edible ones my man does not eat raw tomato. So now I make a different one most weeks, depending on what I fancy.