Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Anchovy and Chilli

Good-quality dried pasta can change the way you eat forever, especially if you’ve always bought the $0.69 stuff. I’m not talking here, necessarily, about those artisanal $14 brown paper bags sold at packaging-obsessed gourmet food stores (although some of these are devastatingly good). Rather, I mean pasta that performs consistently – and one that has a good flavour before you add anything to it. This means it will hold up to al dente cooking when many of the cheapest ones don’t. One general rule of thumb is to look for pasta that seems more opaque than others on offer – this means that it has been dried for longer at a lower temperature, significantly improving the flavour. The beauty of this is, that the better your pasta is, the less you need to add to it to make a wonderfully satisfying meal. And this phenomenon is your best friend on a Friday night after a long week.

Which brings me to this excellent pasta that is made often here on a Friday night – or whenever we feel we’d rather not spend too much time at the stove. It is simple and yet, when made well, quite sophisticated and is perfection with a glass or two of crisp white. If anchovies are not your favourite thing, this dish could still be, because as the fillets melt into the olive oil with garlic and chilli, their flavour mellows and they impart only a hint of complex saltiness that is perfect with the broccoli and chewy pasta. Traditionally from Puglia, orecchiette (little ears!) is dense and robust pasta that takes a little longer to cook than spaghetti or penne, but its rough texture and cupped shape means that it picks up simple sauces like no other. In this recipe, the pasta is cooked in the same water as the broccoli to capitalise on the flavour of the vegetable. Smart thinking. Traditionally, this dish is served not with parmesan, but ricotta salata: a dried, salted ricotta that is firm, white and perfect for grating finely. If you don’t have this on hand, parmesan is good too – after all, rushing to shops for one ingredient on a Friday night? I don’t think so.

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Anchovy and Chilli
Adapted from Tessa Kiros’ Twelve.

500g broccoli
5 tbsp olive oil
1 large or 1 smaller garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp dried chilli flakes (more or less to taste)
about 5 Italian anchovy fillets in oil, chopped roughly
200g dried orecchiette
grated ricotta salata or parmesan to taste

Trim the tough outer stem of the broccoli and cook whole pieces in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, but not soft. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl or colander, reserving water. When cool enough to handle, cut the broccoli stem from the head, roughly chop into smaller pieces and return to boiling water. Add orecchiette and give the pot a stir. Cook pasta until al dente, following instructions on your packet (these will vary according to brand, thickness etc). When ready, drain pasta and broccoli stems, reserving half a cup or so of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, separate the heads into smaller florets. Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add garlic, chilli and chopped anchovy fillets and stir with a wooden spoon, mashing the anchovy up a bit as you go until they melt into a sauce. Add the florets and toss through so that they pick up the lovely sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering the anchovies might already be salty enough. After a few minutes, add the orecchiette and stems along with the reserved water. Toss through gently until it is glistening and smells delicious. Serve with cheese atop, or mixed through to melt a little.

Serves two with a bit left over, or two very hungry people.


  1. Hi Lex,

    I've tried this one twice - once with the anchovy and once without (with prosciutto) instead - and you are so right. Anchovy makes it salty, but also creamy and delicious.


  2. Hi Carla! Sorry I missed your comment back here.

    Yes! The anchovies melt into this creamy, salty sauce but kinda mellow out a bit at the same time. I suppose butter would be the go if you didn't want to use anchovies - I'd add a bit more parmesan then.


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