Just for the record, I was not good at physics and chemistry at school and gave them up as subjects as soon as I could. What a pity. If had seen the video I am putting up at the end of this post, which clearly illustrates how important it is to use a STRONG heat for rolling water, in plenty of SALTED water, in order to blanch green leafy vegetables properly … properly! … who knows? I might very well have been drawn to scientific studies instead. All this to say that, in my home food practice, science is welcomed when it condescends to descend to a level of intuitive understanding. We may not all be scientists but why not learn an easy trick or two to make our food taste or look better?
The following recipe is really not rocket science … but by first blanching the broccoli (in Italy they are known as broccoli siciliani) in plenty of salted, rolling water, as opposed to boiling them or steaming them, the end result was very very pleasing. A+ for effort please!
For this recipe, you will need broccoli, garlic, some chilli if you like it, olive oil and …
pecorino cheese – as well as some pasta, naturally!
First remove the leaves … wash them and set them aside.
Then trim the broccoli … peel the stems (on the right).
Add the salt when the water comes to a boil, and when it starts boiling ‘on a roll’, plop the broccoli and blanch it … for as long as it needs. Now this might sound like a very annoying piece of instruction … far too vague, etc. But the fact is that the cooking time will depend on the amount of broccoli being cooked and on the state of the broccoli in the first place (soft broccoli are going to cook a lot faster than crisp, very fresh ones). The thing to do is reckon on at least 3-4 minutes and then use a knife to prod the vegetable in order to determine whether it has ‘blanched’: i.e. cooked without being reduced to a mushy state.
While the broccoli was blanching, I pounded at the anchovy fillets and garlic with a mortar and pestle.
I poured some olive oil into a pan, then added some chilli and a peppercorn (I love my peppercorns as you know!), and finally the paste of garlic and anchovy. Only then did I switch on the flame, on a low heat.
Just minutes later, this is what the pan looked like … and this was now the time to add the broccoli.
I removed the broccoli from the rolling water with a slotted spoon and placed it directly into the sauté pan. The idea was to coat the broccoli with the olive oil flavoured with the garlic and anchovy etc. If you can toss the pan, even better. This takes about 2 minutes roughly. Switch the heat off.
In terms of blanching technique, you will have noticed that I did NOT place the broccoli in iced water. The reason for this is that I needed the broccoli to make a pasta sauce, and not a vegetable side dish. A pasta SAUCE must be SOFT and creamy and clingy in consistency, NOT crunchy. But by blanching the broccoli first, I maintained its lovely green colour without simmering it to death. As you can see in the photo, some of the broccoli remained in the water … not a problem. And now is the time to …
Add the leaves of the broccoli. The broccoli florets and the leaves impart a bit of taste to the cooking water, and this will make the pasta taste all the better.
In goes the pasta, as soon as the water starts boiling again. Do taste the water before, and make sure there is enough salt … because the broccoli will have absorbed some.
As soon as the pasta is cooked short of its being ‘al dente’ (i.e. slightly undercooked), strain it directly into the sauté pan with the broccoli. Include the leaves too. Turn the heat on high now …
Do not throw this precious water away just yet …
Instead … ladle some of the cooking water directly into the sauté pan, a little at a time, as much as the pasta can absorb … until the pasta is cooked to perfection. Keep stirring or tossing the pan until you reach this desired texture.
When ready, switch the heat off and shower the pasta with freshly grated pecorino cheese.
Mix it in …
Sprinkle a little more cheese on each individual plate … and enjoy!
This photo gives a good indication, I think and hope!, of how creamy this broccoli sauce is when prepared this way. The techniques of (a) blanching first, (c) of finishing off cooking the pasta in the pan by adding ladles of the cooking water to it, and (c) by mixing in the grated cheese in the pan and stirring or tossing the pan to create a cream are very easy. Do try them one day …
Here is the link I mentioned regarding the importance of blanching leafy vegetables: