This is what I have come to label as a ‘default’ pasta, together with matriciana, arrabbiata and aglio, oglio e peperoncino (carbonara and cacio e pepe take a bit of thinking, for instance, and hence can’t qualify). It is a pasta sauce that somehow just comes together, naturally – it tastes good in a hearty fashion and hits the spot at lunchtime when you want to hush your appetite but not overeat. Owing to its inherent rich and jubilant ingredients (sausage meat, pecorino romano cheese (parmesan if you prefer), garlic, evoo and not forgetting the broccolo romano itself (‘romanesco’ some call it), it is a complete meal in itself. If you can’t get hold of broccolo romano, use whatever will substitute best: e.g. rapini, broccoli rabe, or even Sicilian style broccoli.
This is one of my favourite pasta brands, it comes from Abbruzzo. A good pasta does indeed make all the difference … but that can be the topic for another post. I was using 500g of pasta and chose to use 3 Italian sausages, 1 large broccolo romano head and about 3 cloves of garlic (1 per sausage sort of thing). By all means use less or more garlic, or none at all: it is a question of personal preference. Skin the sausages and set aside … Grate some pecorino romano cheese (or parmesan). I hate grating and always try and trap some obliging soul to do it for me. If you by any chance grate more than you require, place the leftovers in the freezer – it will keep better. After washing the broccoli, start unravelling it. It is a nice thing to keep as many florets as intact as possible – they look so pretty – but do not be alarmed about cutting the larger ones in half. Also, cut up the white part of the broccolo. Here is a closer look … Bring a pot of water to the boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and when the salt has dissolved, add the broccoli pieces. The broccolo has to simmer for at least 15 minutes. We are not after a stir-fry and it is quite all right to ‘overcook’ the broccoli, indeed it is an imperative. Marcella Hazan wrote about this modern tendency of ours to ‘undercook’ vegetables because we think it is a healthier or trendier option when in point of fact, the vegetable is ‘done’ precisely when it is ‘done’ … when it ‘gives’ and releases the sweetness of its flavour without falling apart.
The pasta will cook in this very same water, a few minutes later. Think of your cooking water as a kind of stock — it adds flavour to the final dish.
While the broccoli pieces are simmering, we can forge ahead with cooking the garlic. I added a little bit of chilli.
When the garlic turns golden, add the sausage meat and cook until done. Sprinkle some salt, and pepper too if you like it. When the broccoli is ready, use a sieve to remove it from the water … And drain it straight away into the saucepan with the sausage. Take your time, this transfer is done in batches … Turn the heat up and combine all the ingredients, making sure that there is a little bit of liquid left, at all times (the sauce will taste ‘orrible if it goes too dry). Again, taste to check whether it might need a little bit more salt. If you do not have a sieve that’s large enough to drain the pasta a little at a time, as shown above, what you do is drain the pasta all in one go with a colander … but do be sure to reserve some of the cooking water before doing so (as in the photo above for instance or in a large mug). Turn the heat off and add part of the pecorino and mix well. Each diner can add more pecorino later at the table. Here we are … a nice serving. Nice. Very nice. Perfect during the colder months. Good for leftovers later on too … that’s if you have any !