Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pasta with Purple Broccoli, Olives and Pine Nuts

For years and years I thought broccoli was the stuff with the tight green heads of teeeny tiny flowery bits atop muscular green stalks. I loved it in stirfries and was less certain about it steamed for a side dish as it takes only a nanosecond to go from cooked to disintegrated grainy puddle. One day my friend Andrea cooked me a fabulous dinner from Moosewood Cookbook and she told me she wanted another of their books called The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I sought it out and discovered that it really did include a recipe that involved standing broccoli in some kind of base and cooking it to be an enchanted forest. Worked for me - it's such a great way to play with your food.
Then a couple of years ago along came a new broccoli, strange and different. A wild and woolly thing with small purple heads on long stalks with grey green leaves. More scary fairy forest. I was uncertain about it for a while, but saw it through the winter at the market and read about it in occasional recipes. Before I bought some I wasn't sure I needed another kind of broccoli. More fool me. For the scruffy cousin of the tight green variety is a lovely thing, delicate and slightly nutty. Definitely good to eat.

This recipe, from the endlessly used River Cafe Pasta Book, uses the fact that the heads disintegrate to make a textured sauce that is enriched with olives and pine nuts and tiny spikes of chilli and given depth with freshly ground fennel. A real treat.

Pasta with Broccoli & Olives

350g dried small pasta shells
1kg purple sprouting broccoli
100g black olives, stoned
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
60g pine nuts
100g pecorino, freshly grated
Olive oil

Cut the larger broccoli heads into smaller pieces then cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 100ml of the cooking water, now nicely stained purple.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently fry the shallots until golden - maybe ten minutes. Add the garlic, chillies and fennel, fry briefly, then add the parsley. Cook for two minutes, then add the broccoli and the reserved water. Continue to cook tillthe broccoli is broken up into a sauce. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sseason with balck pepper and stir well.

Separately, fry the olives and pine nuts briefly in 1 tablespoon of olive oil till the nuts just take on a little colour.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain, add the broccoli sauce and stir in the olives and pine nuts and half the pecorino. Mix to coat all the shells.

Serve in big bowls with the rest of the cheese and perhaps a salad.

Yum. And very good cold next day for lunch. Four meals.

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