How does it taste?
But it sorta looks…
‘Yeah, is there any way to make it look less like… *** Maybe you could place the broccoli on top instead of mixing it in the sauce so it looks less…. Or you could just eat with your eyes closed?’
There are some parts of the vegetable kingdom that make me think that Willy Wonka was actually a gardener cuz there’s no way that pollination and random genetic recombination could create the bright distinct bull’s eye whorls of a Chioggia beet, it’s gotta be the work of a rooty dervish chamber. And those spiky verdant fractals of Romanesco broccoli have got to be some ingenious Wonka-ism like an edible calligraphy brush dispenser or a subterranean rock candy drill, the possibilities are endless. Right, so now that you think I’ve OD’d on the Wonka soda… I do really like Romanesco broccoli and not just for its striking looks and girlish figure. Despite its moniker, Romanesco is actually part of the cauliflower family and has a slightly nutty taste. It also retains its shape better with cooking than broccoli or cauliflower making it a natural for roasting or pastas or both. Roasting the Romanesco not only brings out its inherent nutty flavor but also a little sweetness as well. And just in case you’re interested, 1 cup of this visually striking veggie contains 86% of the RDA for vitamin C, 21% of vitamin K and a measly 26 calories so it’s a great way to fill up for very little love-handle currency–in fact, this recipe has ~just under 500 calories per serving. The savory pancetta and spicy crushed red pepper give you a punch of flavor with additional savory depth from the broth while the sweet velvety cauliflower contrasts with the firmer, spiky Romanesco broccoli. And all that starchy pasta? Lovely edible little Wonka sauce vehicles. So despite it’s unsavory appearance, tonight’s dinner was pretty savory (hehe).
Wonka do’s and don’ts:
1) Do roast your veggies if you have the time cuz the high heat of roasting browns them and really helps to bring out those nutty, slightly sweet flavors. People who don’t like veggies cuz they taste bland and watery are (partially) right. Since vegetables are ~90% water, cooking them with high heat by grilling, searing or roasting them helps to concentrate their inherent flavors by evaporating some of that excess fluid as well as imparting additional flavors by browning them (aka the Maillard reaction which creates melanoidins from heating the amino acid proteins and sugars on your veggie’s surface turning them into long sticky chains with attached flavor molecules). That’s worth a measly 10-5 minutes, right?
2) Don’t add oil to your pasta water cuz while it may help keep your pasta from sticking together, it will also form a greasy film on your pasta keeping that lovely sauce from soaking in. Along the same lines, when draining the pasta, don’t rinse it cuz you’ll rinse off all the sticky starch that lets your yummy sauce stick to the pasta resulting in bland pasta swimming in a savory sauce.
3) So how do I keep my pasta from sticking together, smarty pants? If you start cooking your pasta when your sauce is halfway/almost done, you can drain it and pop it right into the sauce to finish cooking for that last minute (I like to boil it for one minute less than the recommended cooking time which then allows the flavors of the sauce to soak into all that starchy goodness. I also find some frequent stirring with a spoon (or tongs if you’re cooking a long thin pasta like fettuccine) in the first few minutes of boiling keep things from sticking together later on. You can also scoop out a cup (I use a coffee or tea cup cuz if it’s hot enough to handle hot liquids, it’ll tolerate scooping hot pasta water out of the pot) starchy pasta water to use to adjust the consistency of your sauce.
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb Romanesco broccoli, in 1-inch florets
1 lb cauliflower, in 1-inch florets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 oz pancetta or 5 strips bacon, diced **if cooking vegetarian, substitute either 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil or 1 tbsp extra virgin olive and 1/2 tsp salt
1 shallot, finely diced
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp (2 cloves) crushed garlic
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 c low-salt vegetable or chicken broth
1 tbsp butter
2 oz shredded parmesan cheese
12 oz farfalle or any scoopy pasta like orchiette
Preheat oven to 450F. Grease a roasting pan with olive oil. Spread broccoli on one half of the pan and the cauliflower florets onto the other side, season with salt and ground pepper and roast till golden brown ~10-5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. You can turn off the oven cuz you won’t be needing it anymore.
In a large ~3 quart pot or sauté pan brown pancetta ~2 minutes. Remove pancetta and set aside. Using tongs and a paper towel blot out most of oil leaving ~1-2 tsp. Sauté shallot till translucent and soft ~5 minutes. Stir in garlic, salt, crushed red pepper, and thyme and sauté for 1 minute to release all that spicy capsaicin. Add cauliflower and chicken broth then cover and simmer till cauliflower is falling apart ~10-5 minutes. Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor pulse sauce till smooth. Stir in butter, parmesan, pancetta, and Romanesco broccoli till well blended. Turn off stove.
While cauliflower is simmering, boil water in a large ~3-4 quart pot. Set a timer for 1 minute less than the recommended cooking time. Scoop out ~1 c of pasta water and then drain pasta. Add pasta to sauce and simmer for another minute to coat the broccoli in the sauce. Add pasta water 1/4 c at a time till you get the consistency that you like. The cauliflower purée is pretty thick so I ended up using an entire cup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4. Eat with eyes closed.