Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family and is closely related to the cauliflower; but whereas cauliflower suffers from an image problem, broccoli basks in the limelight as a “superfood”. It is claimed to help fight cancer, ageing, you name it. Just eat more greens of any colour, say I.
Alan Davidson in his Oxford Companion to Food puts forward the theory that broccoli was developed by gardeners in Europe en route to the creating the cauliflower. I am not sure this is the case given the appearance of cauliflower recipes all around the Mediterranean basin; so far in my travels, the only region that has several ways of dealing with broccoli is southern Italy. Though just to confuse things, cauliflower is often called broccolo in Sicily.
It’s usually served with pasta, chilli or anything salty like a tangy cheese and anchovies. And if you have a member of your family who doesn’t like greens, then smothering the vegetable in cheese is one very good way to get them eating it.
Last night I adapted a pasta, broccoli and cheese recipe from La Cucina – the key to the dish was large quantities of fresh and aged caciocavollo, a teat shaped cheese from southern parts of Italy made from either cows or sheeps milk. It tastes a bit like provolone.
Anyway I had neither in the fridge, just a mature cheddar and some parmesan, so that’s what went into the dish. Along with a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche (left over from the night before, into which I’d stirred some chopped garlic), which was not in the original recipe either but it was a way of using up leftovers and helped to create a more sauce like consistency. I guess that a small amount of Boursin cheese do the same job. Or omit – it’s up to you. For 2 people:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
400g purple sprouting broccoli or similar
200g pasta (short or shaped for preference)
2 tablespoons of crème fraiche (optional)
150g grated mature cheddar or similar tangy cheese
50g grated parmesan
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. At the same time, heat the oil in a sauté pan and gently fry the onion and garlic. Stir through the cayenne pepper after a couple of minutes.
Cut in the broccoli into equal size pieces (half or thirds depending on the length). Blanch the broccoli in the boiling water and after 2 minutes use a slotted spoon to scoop the pieces out and into the sauté pan. You could skip this step and add the broccoli directly to the onion mixture without the sky falling in – but blanching keeps the broccoli looking greener and is a faster way of cooking it. Either way, remember to give the onion and broccoli mixture a regular stir.
Add the pasta to the boiling (and slightly green) water, and boil according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once al dente, drain the pasta but not too thoroughly – keep a little of the water to help with the sauce. Pour this into the broccoli mixture. Add the crème fraiche if using and the grated cheeses. Mix everything up thoroughly and serve immediately.