In Rome it is still common to follow an informal, unscientific weekly recipe calendar which was established centuries ago based on religious tenets. Romans call the food served following this calendar piatti canonici – Canonical dishes. The wonderfully rowdy trattoria il Bucatino, the one that inhabits the right hand corner of the ground floor of our palazzo, follows this weekly calendar. Each day the appropriate smells curl through the kitchen window of il Bucatino across the courtyard, up two floors and if it is open, which it often is, into our front door.
Saturday is the day for trippa alla romana (tripe with mint and pecorino romano); Sunday is Fettuccine alla romana followed by abbacchio (fettucine pasta with a hearty meat, chicken liver and tomato sauce followed by roast suckling lamb); Monday is the day for riso e indivia in brodo (rice and curly indivia in chicken broth); Tuesday is pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas) pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) or fish; Wednesday, anything goes; Thursday is gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi); Friday, it is Traditional to eat pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas again), baccalà (salt cod) or pasta e broccoli (pasta with broccoli).
Vincenzo, who equilibrates his very erratic life as a musician by keeping a steady routine of three proper- knees-tucked-under-the-table-and-pasta-at-lunchtime meals a day, would love to adopt this weekly calendar and have pasta e broccoli every friday. I’m not against the idea, after years of avoiding any kind of routine and up turning tables of familiarity, I’ve embraced lots of both since living in Rome. I would happily eat pasta e ceci every Tuesday.
We don’t of course, I haven’t embraced that much routine and I don’t think we are actually capable. We do however have our own, very loose, extremely flexible weekly calender inspired by the wonderful Roman one. No fixed days, but most weeks, at some point we will have pasta e ceci, baccalà (salt cod) cooked in one way or another, maybe some gnocchi with tomato sauce and almost always a dish of pasta e broccoli.
Pasta e broccoli, as the name suggests, is pasta mixed with broccoli. While the pasta is cooking, the broccoli, which has been parboiled, is tossed and gently panfried (braised really) with plenty of olive oil, garlic, chilli and sometimes melted anchovies before being mixed with the al dente pasta. If anchovies are not included, each bowlful is topped with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Pasta e broccoli is best made with the curiously beautiful broccolo romanesco. The strange, bewitching, lime green vegetable with its intricate clusters of closely packed florets which one of my books describe as architectonic spirals and another, the aggressively brassiered breasts of Madonna in her Boadicea phase. Cooked romanesco has the texture and feel of good cauliflower but the taste of broccoli.
The reason broccoli romanesco works so wonderfully is because if it is cooked until very tender (this is no time for al dente) and then tossed with enough olive oil, it creates a wonderful, soft, creamy, almost sauce like coating for the pasta which is then spiked with the heat of the chilli and the warmth of the garlic. As much as I love anchovies, I tend not to add then to our pasta e broccoli beacause we like lots of freshly grated parmesan on top and I don’t like fish and cheese together.
If we are having pasta e broccoli for lunch I generally cook more broccoli than we need so we have another portion for another time, topped with more raw olive oil or some anchovy spiked dressing.
So, to the recipe, traditionally eaten on Fridays but delicious any day.
Serves 6 as a starter and 4 as a main course
- 1 large broccolo romanesco divided into small florets and washed
- 400g short tubular pasta such as penne or rigatoni
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole but crushed with the back of a heavy knife
- 1 small red chilli or pepperoncino (fresh or dried) deseeded and finely chopped)
- lots of freshly grated parmesan to serve
Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil and then add the broccoli florets and cook for 6 – 8 minutes or until they are just tender, this will depend on how fresh the broccoli is. Using a slotted spoon remove the florets to a colander.
Meanwhile In a separate frying pan gently warm the olive oil on a low flame and then add the garlic and chilli and cook them gently for about five minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown or really fry because it will go bitter and ruin.
Bring the same water you cooked the brocolli in back to a fast boil and add the pasta. Follow the instructions on the packet, our rigatoni from Garofalo takes 9 minutes but we cook it for 8 and it is al dente as we like it.
Add the broccoli to the frying pan, stir so the each floret is coated with the garlic and chilli infused oil, cover and cook gently for another 5 minutes, mash the florets roughly with a fork. Taste and add salt accordingly, bearing in mind you will add parmesan later.
Drain the Pasta and save a bit of the cooking water and then mix it with the broccoli in a large warm serving bowl. Add a spoonful of cooking water if you feel the mixture needs loosening up.
Bring the pasta to the table, divide it between the individual bowls and allow everyone to help themselves to plenty of freshly grated parmesan, a grind of black pepper and more oil if you like.
Firstly and most importantly, Are you all keeping warm? We are very cold and rather damp with occasional downpours here in Rome, I know my family and friends are all battling with snow and impressive temperatures near London. Soup, slow cooked anything, porridge with cream, hot chocolate, whisky, Wellington boots, clementines, hot water bottles all feel very appropriate at present.
Secondly, I am happy and proud to be contributing to the food and drink section of the online Spectator magazine SpectatorScoff. My contributions aside, Scoff is well worth a visit for it’s wonderful food writing, recipes and opinions. I think (hope) you might like it.