Pasta e broccoli

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)
  • salt
  • 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.

Two things

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.



Filed under food, pasta and rice, rachel eats Italy, Rachel's Diary, recipes, vegetables

64 responses to “Pasta e broccoli

  1. I so look forward to your posts. It’s not just the lovely writing, interesting photography and great food that resonates with me. Following your life as an expat in Rome is a pleasure. I have only had the opportunity to visit Rome twice, and I fell in love at first sight. Pasta and broccoli was a weekly regular at our house when my son was growing up. Quick, simple, delicious and easy to expand for the number people who might be at the table that night. Congrats on the writing gig at SpectatorScoff. Can’t wait to check it out.

  2. This was Monday dinner for us. Our pasta of choice, orecchiette. Finished with some butter in the pan because as Julia and Jacques would say, if you don’t “you’ll be sorry.”


  3. Mmm. So perfect. And congrats on the new gig!

  4. Well, I am looking forward to reading more of your beautiful writing at Spectatorscoff, it’s very well deserved.
    I love Romanesco, we tried to grow some in the veg patch last year but for some reason we seem to have no luck with any brassica. The chickens had a feed on the paltry offerings. We will try again this year though. My mum did better with hers so we had a couple of sunday lunches accompanied by Romanesco – a real treat.
    Oh and more snow on the way to Shropshire tonight according to the forecast so my hot water bottle is at the ready.

  5. lo

    We just ate the last of our locally grown Romanesco at Christmas, and I’m still yearning for that gorgeous flavor. If I had some on hand, I’d definitely be making this pasta dish. It looks wonderful.

    And many congrats on the new writing gig. Have fun with it!

  6. I had my first taste of the pretty broccoli romanesco just before Christmas–a gift from a farmer friend who decided not to sell them. Hers didn’t grow to the size expected–unlike yours on the chair, these fit into your palm and looked like they’d make splendid ornaments for the tree. But they roasted up sweet, very cauliflower-like.

    We Are on a broccoli themed synchronous kick indeed.

    Applause for your writing gig–I shall check out Scoff very soon.

  7. What great news for ME! I have yet another place to find your enviable and entertaining writing!

    I showed this particular post to my daughter Olivija because we had a similar meal (though not at all similar, really) for dinner. Knew you would like knowing she thought your writing “sounded like a song”. High praise from an 8 year old. She also pointed out that our dinners never look quite as good. Hm.

    Hope you are so well…

  8. i love il Bucatino, and i love pasta e broccoli. thanks for this post, it transports me!

  9. elp

    absolutely love it ❤
    pasta e broccoli is my favourite pasta dish, together with spaghetti con le vongole.

  10. jamie

    Congrats Rach!!
    the Spectator is lucky to have you…..but that goes without saying…

  11. I feel like the romanesco broccoli resembles those Fractal images that were popular in the early ’90s – around the same time as those pictures that you had to stare at for ages until you could see the image behind the image. Remember those?

    I grew up in a house where, if not a strict routine, dishes were served with a familiar regularity, so I can appreciate the security in knowing what will be on the table that day and looking forward to it.

    And, the idea of piatti canonici reminds me both of the weekly approbation against meat-eating on Fridays that my family used to subscribe to, and the monthly observance of el dia de noquis (gnocchi day) still common in Argentina and Uruguay. I feel like, in a small way, it somehow helps to celebrate the everyday.

    Two more things: indivia – is it another name for escarole (scarola) or is it a variety of escarole? And, I love that shot of the clementines and wellies by the door, and the use of natural light in your photos. No matter how good a lighting setup one has, there is no substitute for the colors you get from the real thing.

    • rachel

      Yes, it is scarola, you know your Roman food better than me.
      As much as I love the steady, familiar routine. I do go crazy from time to time
      and miss all the food diversity of London and my people (I might paint romantic pictures but Rome is not the easiest city
      to live in, traditional and quite closed in many respects )
      Thanks for the photo comment, I really appreciate it as I am constantly frustrated by my camera skills.

      • Rach, thanks for the reply – and the note about scarola. I can appreciate the sentiment of missing UK and our people. It’s the quintessential living abroad problem and there’s nothing that can be done about it – even when I visit, it’s never the same, and it never will be. It’s better sometimes and worse at others when I get particularly homesick (when I’ll try to console myself with a quick listen to The Stone Roses and a bag of Walkers’). Similarly, many people might think it’s great to live in NYC – which it is, sometimes – but, as you say, like Rome, the reality is far-removed from the popular idea of the place. NYC might seem like all bright lights, tall buildings, fascinating and vibrant ethnically-diverse communities – and all of this true – but it’s also brutally exhausting, competitive, oppressive and fearsomely expensive.

  12. i love the idea of canonical cooking!

  13. Mmm…. this sounds so good. It’s time for a break from lentils, brown rice and barley… this is on my list for Saturday lunch.

  14. Rebecca

    Goodness gracious!

    Last night while looking for a way to pep up my carrot soup I dicovered your blog. I was up till the wee small hours gorging myself on all these wonderful posts and now I am at work getting absolutely nothing done! It’s my HEAVEN.

    I am going to Rome in March for a few months (if it wasn’t for visa constraints I would stay forever!) and you have ramped up my excitement ten fold. I too have a notebook that sits by the computer that’s full of books I want to buy, restaurants I want to visit and recipes I want to try. I started to jot ideas down from your posts but have since crossed these out and written EVERYTHING!!

    • rachel

      March is a perfect time to come to Rome. Please E mail me if you need any more Rome recommendations, I have lots and lots.

      • Rebecca

        Hi Rachel
        I would love some recommendations for my time in Rome, I’d really appreciate that. Leaving NZ in about 10 days so getting pretty excited now! Thanks again 🙂

  15. ok , i’m reading thru the comments and i notice one that is very interesting to me and realize, shit, that’s my husband i think. yes, it was… i love that we both get to enjoy your posts. i absolutely loved this one… the idea of the food calendar is genius! i think americans could use something like that but it wouldn’t be as delish. prob would go: monday-burgers, tuesday-meatloaf, wed – baked chicken, thurs – spaghetti, fri- pizza night, etc. etc. (i’m so mean).

    this dish is the perfect mid-week meal and i absolutely love the melted anchovy. that makes it for me.


  16. I made this tonight – it was excellent. I don’t think I would have ever tried it with just pasta if I hadn’t found your post 🙂

  17. There is a lot of this romanesco at the farmer’s markets here in Los Angeles right now and have only tried it once. It wasn’t as good as it looked. But I can’t wait to try this – seems like a perfect match of flavors.

  18. Bloody fantastic – Rachel, I couldn’t BE more proud of you.

    Off to have a squiz, but wanted to let you know that you are a star. X

  19. Hi – Found your lovely blog through Ms.Adventures in Italy and am always happy to find a fellow foodie and one living in Rome no less. I first found out about this beautiful veggie when I lived there. I wrote about it on my blog here:

    • rachel

      hello Linda
      lovely to meet you too and thankyou for the link, I love reading about the curious and beautiful
      broccolo romanesco.

  20. Substitute Pecorino Romano for the Parmesan next time — it’s salty goodness and sharpness will make your mouth sing. And I second the suggestion to use orecchiette. Thanks for the delicious post.

    • rachel

      Neil, thankyou for all the advice – yes I agree about the pecorino it is delicious too and as for the
      orecchiette I know it is more traditional (vincenzo is from Sicily) we use it if we have it.

  21. I was digging for a new pasta con broccoli recipe tonight and found this. I used regular broccoli (all that was available) and it was delicious! Thanks for posting and writing. I doubled the garlic–and look forward to trying Romano next time!

  22. This recipie looks amazing – can’t wait to get into the kitchen to try it. Nice pictures too.

  23. Lauren

    had a broccoli romanesco delivered in a organic veggie box i got delivered and had no idea what to do with it. googled and found your blog. fabulous, cooked it last night and it was delicious.

    Thank you!

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  25. Stefano Sensi

    well, this is what one calls coincidence. I realised I did not have any pine nut left to cook pasta con i broccoli alla siciliana, and decided to look for an alternative recipe. I found your blog, had a look around and found out… that I know you!

    Yes, I met you last year in Rome during one of my very sporadic visits. In case you are wondering who the heck I am…. My name is Stefano, I live in Geneva and we spent a lovely evening (I should say night) at On the Rox last summer…

    To my next time in Rome, I hope – and keep on with your blog, it’s really well done (but there are too many animals around, for a vegetarian like me!).

    Hugs, Stefano

    PS: if you wish to write back, my email address is

  26. SueLynn

    This was wonderful. An old friend from an Italian family had talked about Spaghetti and broccoli for many years. I just decided I wanted to try it. The only thing that could have made it better was to drop a hand full of shrimp in it. Thanks for a great recipe and a wonderful blog.

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  28. Emma

    My veg box arrived yesterday and in it arrived a broccolo romanesco, some garlic bulbs and a red chilli. I came online to search for recipe ideas for these ingredients and came across yours. We eat loads of pasta in this house and I always have fresh parmesan in the fridge. This recipe is, therefore, just perfect for our family and I cannot wait to try it later today. Thank you.

  29. Rachel, I revisited this recipe of yours today, not having made it for a long time. It’s such a lovely, simple combination of things and I’m grateful for it.

  30. SueLynn

    We have some friends who have cauliflower and spaghetti that his Italian mother made for the family when he was young. I made your recipe about two months ago and my husband loved it. I marked the page and for his birthday yesterday I made it. I think he would have it once a week if I would make it. I am going to try it with cauliflower one day and see how it turns out. Have you every made it with cauliflower? Thanks for a great meal.

  31. Alberto

    Hi Rachel,
    I just come by to refresh myself on the recipe of pasta ai broccoli, and then just started to wander on your blog. I really had to post my congratulations, it is very nice.
    Keep it up and keep enjoying rome!



  32. Dennis

    I often make pasta with broccoli in NYC and am looking forward to trying your version. I wonder about the cooking time for the broccoli, though. Perhaps this is a difference between the Romanseco type and whatever the type we have here, but if I boil the broccoli for more than three minutes (with no additional braising!) it is overcooked. Or maybe the difference is in current American and Italian styles: you want your broccoli soft, I want it crisper (but cooked) and bright green. That said, I’m eager to be persuaded.

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  34. Hello Rachel, this was my first recipe that I tried from your site. Have to say its one of my favourites! I really love the way the broccoli blends with the pasta and the flavour that is created with the garlic and olive oil…mmm I just ate it and I’m already looking forward to next time. Thank you so much for posting all your recipes!

  35. Excellent! I just bought a head of broccolo romanesco and this is exactly what I’d be making later today.

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  41. hello rachel,

    just discovered your lovely blog and am SO pleased to have found this recipe. it is the closest i have found to something from my childhood (my mother was italian) and my six year old daughter is thrilled! i’ve been playing around with variations for ages but it hasn’t met her or my standards until now. THANK YOU. i can see my winter menu planning being greatly altered (and improved) by the wealth of recipes here!


    • rachel

      Hi Suzy, so glad you found me and yes pasta e broccoli is a winning recipe (we had it for lunch yesterday) happy cooking to you x

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  43. Star Alexander

    my kids love this!! thanks for the recipe!!so easy, soooo delish!!

  44. Nancy

    First time trying Broccolo Romanesco – delicious recipe! Added a few anchovies.
    Have a dear friend from Campania who taught me “never cheese on fish!”
    Well written. Thank you for sharing!

  45. Yum this sounds really delicious. I love trying new recipes from blogs. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  46. Carmen Pricone

    Oh Rachel you have brought back childhood memories for me. We adopted this style of eating at home. My mother, for keeping order would designate certain dishes on certain days. Pasta e broccoli is a favourite even now. It was only the other day when I came back from work a little later than usual, that I began to think that I should start adopting a more planned routine for our family meals. Thank you for sharing. 😘

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