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Author Notes: Pasta with broccoli happens to be a staple in my house. Not only is it simple to make with a few, easy to procure ingredients but everyone loves it and it can be prepared for vegetarians (leave out the anchovy), gluten-free (use gluten free pasta), diabetics (use Kamut pasta) and anyone of any religious persuasion. As I am a magnet for people with food restrictions, this dish is perfect.
Orecchiette means “little ears” and refers to the resemblance of the pasta shape to that of ears. This shape has existed since the 12th or 13th century and is thought to either be invented in Bari or have been imported by the Angevins who ruled Apulia during the 13th century.
As turnip tops (cima di rapa) are less easily available abroad, I often use broccoli instead but they can be used interchangeably. A huge bonus is that broccoli is a super star food as it is rich in vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium, phosphorous and sulforaphane (a phytonutrient shown to lower the risk of some types of cancers). —woo wei-duan
- 100 milliliters extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 anchovy fillets or 10 cm of anchovy paste
- 1/8 teaspoon to ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes depending on how you like it
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1.2 kilos broccoli, stem removed and cut into florets or 2 kilos turnip tops (cima di rapa), rinsed, large or yellow leaves removed, woody stems removed and leaves shredded
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 500 grams orecchiette pasta (can substitute rigatoni)
- Bring to a boil 7 litres of water with 70 grams of salt added to cook the pasta in. Do not add oil to the water.
- Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add 30 mls of olive oil. Add the anchovies first and stir until they melt into the olive oil. Next add the chilli, garlic, and salt.
- Stir until fragrant (1-2 minutes) and remove from heat (can add a bit of water if the garlic begins to colour).
- Cook the turnip tops (or broccoli) in the boiling water for 6 minutes (8 minutes for broccoli) and remove with a slotted spoon to the chilli, garlic, and anchovy mixture with 2 tablespoons of the pasta water.
- Add the orecchiette to the water and cook for the time indicated on the instructions on the package.
- Meanwhile if using broccoli, smash it up with the back of a spoon or spatula and sprinkle with the salt. You can also puree it a bit in a food processor if you prefer it more consistently smooth. Remove pasta and drain well (do not rinse) and add to the turnip top mixture.
- Add the 70 mls of olive oil, mix well, and top with a bit of freshly ground black pepper.
- Variations If you feel that boiling the broccoli removes too many of the nutrients, instead you can add the raw broccoli to the cooked anchovy, chilli, garlic mixture with 100 mls of water and cover with a lid over medium low heat to steam. Cook, stirring twice until the broccoli is soft (can keep adding a bit of water if necessary) and can be pierced easily with a fork, about 10 minutes. Break it up with a with a spoon or spatula or puree in a food processor. Then toss with the cooked pasta, cook another minute, and mix with the olive oil and serve. Shortcuts If I have leftover broccoli from a side dish of broccoli with garlic and anchovy (see recipe here), I will reheat it and puree it to dress the pasta. Also if I have left over bagna cauda, I just boil the broccoli and mash it with the bagna cauda to dress the pasta.