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Penne integrali con broccolo romano (Whole-wheat penne with Romanesco broccoli)

March 2, 2011

Let’s start with this:

Have you ever seen this vegetable before?  Have you ever eaten this vegetable before?  Have you ever purchased this vegetable before?  And perhaps more importantly, have you ever seen a vegetable so psychedelically beautiful before?

Meet Romanesco broccoli.  Otherwise known as Roman cauliflower.  Or, its less, umm…located name: Broccoflower.  I like the sound of “Romanesco,” so I’m going with the first option.

I definitely believe every home cook–especially a busy one, which I am learning, all moms are–needs a decently sized arsenal of quick, easy-to-make pasta recipes in her back pocket.  Preferably ones that do more than pop open a jar of store-bought sauce to heat in the microwave, though a good store-bought sauce certainly has its place and time.  A recipe that uses a slightly obscure, heirloom vegetable is a real delight to add to the repertoire, and this one comes from La Cucina Italiana, with a few of my own tweaks.

I learned from good ol’ Wikipedia that the Romanesco broccoli was first documented in Italy, in the 16th century.  The shape of its florets make a “logarithmic spiral,” which sounds terrifyingly like my high school pre-calculus class, the only class in which I ever failed an exam.  Apparently, a head of Romanesco broccoli is also an “approximate fractal,” a designation–though I’m sure thrilling–I’ll leave to the mathematicians.

It looks like a sea creature.  Some strange, spiny urchin.  Or a outer-galactic star burst, in freeze-frame.  It’s fantastic.  And (cue the “it’s good for you” voice) it’s rich in vitamin C, fiber and carotenoids.

The heads I bought from my local market were a bit limp.  I’m guessing they don’t fly off the produce shelves like their more recognizable counterparts.  I trimmed their stems and put them in cold water to soak for the afternoon.  They perked up beautifully.  The rest is in the recipe–and now the back pocket!  Bless the Italians and the happy truth that you can eat pasta every day and never the same dish twice…

The recipe (from La Cucina Italiana, with my additions in italics, and my procedure as given)…

Penne integrali con broccolo romano (Whole-wheat penne with romanesco broccoli):

Serves 4-6

Fine sea salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

Generous pinch of crushed red pepper

2 pounds Romanesco broccoli (or cauliflower if you can’t find Romanesco broccoli), cut into 3/4-inch wide florets

Generous splash of white wine

1 pound whole-wheat penne

5 cups packed finely grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 10 ounces) I used much less than this–cheese your pasta to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onion, 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper and pinch of crushed red pepper. Saute a few minutes, then add the garlic.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 12 minutes. Add the Romanesco broccoli, splash of white wine, stir and cover, allowing the broccoli to steam in the wine and become tender.
Add pasta to the boiling water; cook until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot.  Mix in Romanesco broccoli.  Drizzle with extra olive oil and mix in cheese.
Divide pasta among serving bowls. Sprinkle with extra cheese and a little coarse salt, if desired. Serve immediately.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 1:02 pm

    I am making this – this week! I saw those in the grocery store and was in awe. Also, that risotto recipe looks amazing. Looks like I’ll have to get over my fear of making risottos and get on with it.

    • March 7, 2011 10:52 pm

      Wonderful! I hope you like it. And definitely charge ahead with risotto–fear not! I find it very much worth all that stirring… Let me know how your meals turn out! -Sarah

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