Broccoli romano - Until five or six years ago, I had never heard of it, much less tasted it. Flashback to a dinner at "La Cisterna," a restaurant in Rome, when our waiter "Romeo" rips the menus out of our hands and announces, "Stasera mangierete il migliore abbacchio in tutto Roma," or "Tonight you will eat the best baby lamb in all of Rome." He proceeds to choose our entire meal for us, including a platter of broccoli romano sauteed in olive oil, garlic, salt and a little red pepper. I was immediately infatuated with the adorable green vegetable, (and he was right about the lamb) and saw it in nearly every market in the city. I eat it every time I'm in Italy. But finding it here in the northeastern U.S. is a little difficult. I've seen it at Whole Foods, but only as a miniature head. And if you wanted to buy enough to serve for a dinner party, the cost would be so steep you might as well book a flight to Italy (well, not really, but any excuse to travel there and I'm ready.) So you can imagine my joy recently when I stumbled across the vegetable at a local organic farm with a friend for the annual "pig out day," the last harvest of the year.
Whenever I'm in Rome and near a kitchen, I usually prepare broccoli romano as a side dish just the way I had it at "La Cisterna" - parboil it first, drain it, then toss it in a saute pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt and a little bit of red pepper flakes. It's also delicious with a gratinee of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on top. But after arriving home from the farm earlier this week, I decided to throw together a pasta dish for lunch, using the broccoli romano. If you can't find it, the recipe could be made just as easily with many other vegetables - regular broccoli, broccoli rape, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini - anything. It will be good, but it won't transport you back to Rome (and Romeo) like the broccoli romano does for me.
Pasta with broccoli romano
1/2 pound pasta, any type
florets of broccoli romano, about 1 - 1/2 cups
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
garlic, three large cloves
salt, black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
Heat a large pot of salted water and add the pasta while you make the rest of the recipe.
Trim the broccoli romano into bite size florets. Parboil in water for about five minutes and drain. Heat half the olive oil in the pan, add the garlic and saute a minute or two. Add the drained broccoli romano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir for a few minutes then add a small amount of the pasta water (1/4 cup or so) to the broccoli romano and put the lid on the pot. Cook for another five minutes on low heat, being careful not to burn it. Lift the lid and test the broccoli romano to see if it's cooked. Make sure to cook it long enough until it's tender to the bite. Italians like their pasta al dente, but not their vegetables. If there is water remaining in the pan, remove the lid and turn up the heat to help evaporate the water. Drain the pasta and add to the vegetable mixture in the saute' pan. Mix everything together, adding the chopped parsley. Off the heat, stir in the remaining olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese.