What a wonderful find! I spent the last week perusing through my latest cookbook addition, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux. Jessica spent a year traveling around Italy, cooking with Italian women that were recommended to her as she traveled the country. The book nourishes the soul as she shares recipes and wisdom from a disappearing generation of women whose cooking is steeped in simple traditions based on an appreciation of and connection to their land and its rhythms. I was pleasantly surprised to turn the page and find she had arrived in Senigallia in Le Marche, the village of my paternal grandparents, at the home of a woman named Usha. From the Plum-Almond Tart to the Lasagne with Truffles and Prosciutto, every recipe page from Usha and her husband Vincenzo is dog-eared, waiting for their turn in my kitchen. I was at the market yesterday, spied some fresh organic broccoli, and remembered Vincenzo’s Broccoli and Pine Nut Pasta, which had an interesting twist on using broccoli in the sauce – you mash it with a fork! It is a delightfully healthy dish that is simple to make and quite yummy. As we ate dinner, I couldn’t help but wonder if my relatives in Senigallia have perhaps shared a passing smile or an espresso with their fellow villagers whose recipe has found its way to my kitchen. Buon appetito!
Vincenzo’s Broccoli and Pine Nut Pasta
I used about 3/4 pound of pasta versus a full pound for which the recipe called. My broccoli heads may have been smaller than what was used by Jessica. I also added about 1/2 cup of pasta water to add a bit of creaminess to the sauce followed by a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil just prior to serving.
Adapted (just a little bit) from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux
2 heads broccoli
4 cloves garlic
1 dried peperoncino, finely minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
6 oily sun-dried tomatos, finely chopped
3/4 pound medium-length pasta, such as fusilli or penne
Reserved pasta water (about 1/2 cup)
Salt to taste
A drizzle or two of extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan or hard pecorino cheese to garnish
Cut the florets off the broccoli stems, wash them, and steam them in a small amount of salted water for 15-20 minutes, or until very soft. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, sauté the garlic and peperoncino in the oil, until the garlic turns a pale golden brown. Add the pine nuts, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the soft broccoli. Stir to combine, then mash the broccoli with the back of a wooden spoon until it takes on a homogeneous consistency. Saute together for a few minutes, then turn off the heat while the pasta cooks.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and add it to the sauté pan. Mix thoroughly. If a bit dry, add in a bit of the pasta water to moisten. Heat briefly to combine. Season to taste. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Serve right away with a generous grating of Parmesan or pecorino cheese.