My inspiration for this brilliant recipe came from perusing an old cookbook, “Red, White and Greens,” by Faith Willinger. I met Faith Willinger while I was apprenticing at Po Restaurant. She was a good friend of Mario’s and when the cookbook came out, Mario gave her a reception at the restaurant. She was a spirited and passionate person, earthy, warm and inspiring. Although American born, she’d lived in Tuscany for many years by the time she wrote this cookbook. It’s a great read and I recommend it for lovers of simple, yet innovative vegetable dishes of all kinds.
Anyway, since it’s broccoli season, I decided to try my version of this dish. It can be made with broccoli, cauliflower, or romanesco broccoli. The basic methodology is often seen in bean soup recipes, where the soup is made, then part of it is pureed and part is left un-pureed. This results in a creamy base which retains its texture from the un-pureed ingredients.
The thing I love about this technique is that it uses the entire stalk of broccoli–stem and all. Simply peel and dice the stem, boil and saute with salt pork and onions. Boil the florets separately and set aside. Make a puree of the stems, some of the florets, and half the salt pork and onion mixture. The remaining broccoli florets and pieces of salt pork remain whole.
My pasta of choice for this dish is cavatelli. These sturdy little pillows of pasta, made with ricotta, are brilliant in all kinds of preparations. The beauty of cavatelli is that they can be boiled ahead, held in a strainer, then tossed into sauce at the last minute, making this an ideal dish to serve to guests.
Tonight, we had this pasta as our first course. Our main course was Beppi’s Broiled Chicken Thighs with Rosemary, and a salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes, dressed with lemon and olive oil.
Cavatelli with Creamy Broccoli
2 packages frozen cavatelli
1/4 lb salt pork, sliced thin
1 small red onion, diced
1 large head of broccoli
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
pecorino romano for sprinkling
Remove broccoli florets from stem, and peel stem mercilessly with a paring knife–remove all fibrous outer layers. Dice into 1/2″ cubes.
Drop stems into boiling salted water and cook for 8 minutes on high heat. Remove and drain. Boil florets in same pot for about 5 minutes. Remove and drain in strainer.
In a broad skillet over low heat, pour half the olive oil and render the salt pork for about 5 minutes, then add onions and continue sauteing on low heat for another 5 minutes.
Pour the rest of the mixture from the saute pan into blender, along with a cup of broccoli cooking liquid. Process until a smooth puree results. Add 3 or 4 florets of broccoli to the blender and continue to process to a puree.
Return the puree to the saute pan, along with the florets and slices of salt pork. Simmer on lowest heat while cavatelli cook. Drop cavatelli inro the boiling broccoli cooking liquid (add some water if too much has evaporated), and cook until done.
When cavatelli are cooked, place in skillet of sauce, along with a cup of pasta cooking water. Saute together for a minute, then drizzle with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and top with plenty of black pepper. Serve plenty of grated pecorino romano at the table.