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Pasta with Broccolo Romanesco (Pasta con i Broccoli)

In Rome, the word broccoli, or its singular, broccolo, is used loosely for at least five different members of the Brassica family, all of which play major roles in the local diet throughout the colder months: broccoli siciliani (broccoli), cavolfiore (cauliflower), cavolo broccolo (a green cauliflower, which is properly called brocco-flower, but most people just describe it, rather than try to name it), broccoletti (broccoli rabe) and broccolo romanesco, a green cauliflower with pointed florets so new to the English-speaking world that it usually keeps its Italian name. This recipe calls for the last but works equally well with any of them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head broccolo romanesco or cauliflower, about 2 lb., or 2 lb. broccoli or broccoli rabe
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed 
  • 1 small dried red chili 
  • 6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets 
  • 1 lb. penne, rigatoni or conchiglie 

Directions:

Discard only the largest or any discolored leaves from the vegetable. For broccolo romanesco or cauliflower, remove the core and separate the head into florets. For broccoli or broccoli rabe, separate the leaves and the florets. Cut off the bottom of the thinner, more tender stems and then cut into 1-inch pieces. Cut off the bottom of the thicker stems and then use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel away the tough outer skin. Cut the thicker stems into 1/2-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water (at least 4 quarts) to a rapid boil over high heat. Add the salt and the broccolo romanesco or other vegetable and cook until quite tender, about 8 minutes.

Using a large slotted spoon or a wire skimmer, transfer the vegetable to a colander. Leave the water in the pot for cooking the pasta later.

In a large, deep fry pan over medium heat, warm the 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the garlic and chili and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden brown and the chili is browned, about 2 minutes (do not allow the garlic to burn). Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the garlic and chili. Add the anchovies to the oil remaining in the pan and cook, pressing on them with a wooden spoon, until they dissolve into the oil. Add the boiled vegetable.

Meanwhile, bring the vegetable cooking water back to a rapid boil over high heat. Add the pasta and stir for the first minute of cooking and occasionally thereafter.

Sauté the vegetable gently while the pasta cooks, pushing it around and breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon. When the pasta is about half done, stir a ladleful of the pasta water into the fry pan. Let the water evaporate, then stir in a second ladleful of water, again letting it evaporate.

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain it but not too dry, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the fry pan, remove from the heat, and toss together the pasta and vegetable until well combined. Add a bit of the reserved cooking water if the pasta seems too dry.

Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl or individual bowls. Top with a swirl of olive oil and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).