Italians love their vegetables, especially greens. For most Romans in particular, broccoli is a favorite. There's the broccolo romanesco, a cauliflower-like type of broccoli with pointed chartreuse florets, and the well-known broccoletti, a more bitter variety, which is more leafy, and has smaller florets. I am not a huge fan of broccoletti and I have never eaten the broccolo romanesco (although I plan to remedy that very soon). The variety of broccoli I am very fond of, broccolini, is not Italian, though. It's Asian! So much for authentic Italian recipes! This tender and sweet variety is a cross between standard broccoli and kai-lan, a Chinese broccoli. But despite it's Asian heritage, I think this vegetable lends itself beautifully to a distinctly Italian preparation and that is why I love it so much.
After a brief two-minute blanching in boiling water, the broccolini are "shocked" in an ice bath to stop the cooking and set their beautiful green color. They are then sauteed in garlic-infused olive oil and given a punch of heat with crushed red pepper flakes. It's an incredibly simple but very flavorful preparation that Italians use for many types of greens, which are always a fixture at the Italian dinner table.
And an authentic Italian meal isn't complete without a pasta dish. It is served as the first course (primo) of either lunch or dinner, sometimes both. Pasta is like a blank canvas: it lends itself to an almost infinite array of ingredients that can be added based on seasonality, weather, or whatever ingredient happens to be on hand. Depending on the ingredients, a pasta dish can be light and refreshing, or it can be hearty and filling. But regardless of the preparation, pasta is the ultimate comfort food.
The shapes of Italian pasta are many and varied, and it can either be fresh or dried, and made with or without eggs. The dough is either rolled and cut (by hand or machine) or extruded through dies. The flour used to make pasta is also varied: soft wheat (grano tenero), hard wheat (grano duro) are the most common flours used. But pasta can also be made from grains such as buckwheat (grano saraceno), rice (riso) and emmer/spelt (farro).
My favorite shape of pasta, penne, is also Rome's most popular short pasta shape and it is often prepared with a vegetable-based sauce using broccolo romanesco, asparagus or artichokes. There's nothing better than the combination of flavorful greens and pasta to make for a hearty and comforting meal, and although I used an Asian vegetable as the base for my sauce, there's no mistaking that I prepared this dish Italian-style.
Penne with Broccolini
2 bunches broccolini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt plus 1 T. for pasta water
8 oz. (1/2 lb.) penne or other short pasta of your choice
1-2 T. Parmigiano Reggiano
Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside near the stovetop.
Bring water to a steady simmer in a pot large enough to accomodate the broccolini.
Mince the garlic and set aside.
Wash the broccolini under cold water and trim about 1/4 inch off the bottom stems and discard. Cut the broccolini into 1 1/2-inch pieces so they are bite-size. Transfer the broccolini to the simmering water and cook for no more than 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted strainer or tongs, transfer the broccolini into the ice bath. Strain the cooled broccolini into a colander and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add 1 T. of salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, minced garlic and crushed red pepper and stir to coat the garlic and pepper flakes with the oil, adjusting the heat as necessary so the garlic does not burn. Add the broccolini and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Raise the heat to medium-high and saute for about 2 minutes. Lower the heat back to medium-low before you strain the pasta.
When the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and then strain the pasta into a colander. Transfer the hot pasta into the skillet with the sauteed broccolini and mix well to incorporate. Turn off the heat and add the Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well, adding a little bit of the reserved pasta water if the pasta sticks together. Serve hot with additional Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled over each individual serving if desired.
|Subscribe to RSS|