Cooking Italy: Pasta with Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce

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This dish is more exciting than it appears. Many years ago, my cousin Sam and I were room mates. He was my foodie/cooking hero and he told me I should make a broccoli anchovy sauce. I gave him that kind of look where the brow deepens and it looks like I just smelled a skunk. I never took him up on it, but I always thought about it. That idea was in my head for years.

So this is the recipe of redemption. When I first saw it in Marcella’s book, I thought of Sam, realized he had gotten the idea from her, and I’m taking pleasure in his ability to mentor me long past his death. And, I’m so glad I never forgot. So if you had your nose scrunched up at the thought of melting anchovies into some olive oil, adding broccoli and serving it over pasta, think again. Don’t miss out.

Anchovies are not a whole lot of fun to work with. They have these little bones that look like little threads and because I’m not too good with filleting a fish big enough for a barbie doll, I made a mess handpicking out the little bones. Even the thought makes me crunch my nose up. But, if you can get past that, give them a good chop and melt them into olive oil, and feel excited that you have just discovered a cooking secret….the salty, fishy flavor builder that you never know is there.

You eat more anchovies that you realize. Good chefs sneak them into sauces to add a layer of flavor to foods beyond seafood. And, with proper preparation and creativity, you can up the flavor profile
on roasts, pestos, seafood, lamb and chicken dishes. It’s a key ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce, which always has been and always will be a spinach tiger pantry staple.

How to Cook with Anchovies
Most likely you will be using canned anchovies packed in oil. If you can find anchovies packed in salt, that is first choice. (Edit note: Read Allison’s comment below on purchasing anchovies). Rinse well and soak in cold water for 10 minutes to get rid of saltiness. If you are careful, you should be able to remove the entire backbone in one swoop. When you want to add flavor to a dish, add in 1/8 of an anchovy or you can use 1/8 teaspoon of anchovy paste. The anchovy paste is more salty and more intense.

Spinach Tiger Healthy?
The way to bring this into at ten in 2010 friendly is simple. Eat it. It’s a healthy meal, one in which you can certainly eat one cup of pasta to two cups of broccoli for a meal under 400 calories. There are several pastas on the market competing for your healthier self. You can look for pastas with a low-glycemic count, whole wheat, brown rice, etc.

Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan’sEssentials of Classical Cooking

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 6 anchovy filets, rinsed in cold water, minced
  • 1 pound (or more) of organic broccoli
  • red chile pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano
  • sea salt, fresh ground pepper
  1. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch broccoli. I used broccoli that had big stalks and I cut those off separately so they would fit in pot, and I left them in boiling water a few minutes longer than the flowers. Remove from pot (save hot boiling water to cook pasta in). Remove broccoli as soon as it turns a bright green and place it in a big bowl of ice water to retain color. Drain dry. Do same with stalks and cut them into a dice. Cut broccoli flowers into bite size pieces. Place pasta into the water pan that cooked the broccoli.
  2. Heat a large heavy pot with olive oil. Add anchovies, stir until melted into the oil. Add in broccoli, toss until cooked to desired bite. I prefer broccoli with a bit of crunch, although cooked. Toss with pasta. Add salt, pepper, chili flakes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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