Saturday, September 24, 2005

Whole-Wheat Pasta with Broccoli Pesto and Garlicky Breadcrumbs



I was getting a physical last week--whoa, holy Olivia-Newton-John-with-the-terry-cloth-headband flashback!--and my doctor said, "Oh my god, look at this." A tweet had dinged in from his college-aged son: "Just got mugged!" That was the whole of it. There was no follow-up, and he wasn't answering his cell phone. "Can you believe my life?" my doctor laughed--and no, no I couldn't. I mean, really? Are these kids going to ripple away from us to the very outer edges of our world, lapping at the shores of remoteness and danger, while we call to them, the stone left behind in the center?

We've got a fire popping and fragrant in the woodstove tonight, every candle in the house lit to rage, rage against the dying of the daylight-savings light, everybody safe and cozy, a board-game getting set up even as I write this. I am reckless and greedy as King Midas: ask me this second to make a wish, and I would wish for this, forever and ever. And only years from now, roasting and sweating by our eternal fire in the eternal November evening, setting up Zooloretto for the trillionth time, the children exhaustedly unchanged, would I understand the categorical error of wanting everything always to stay the same.

I'm getting to the broccoli, I am. Because one of the things we can send our kids with into the world is knowledge of how to take care of themselves: how to know when they are tired or hungry or when they've had enough: enough food, enough sugar, enough carnival rides; enough Boone's Farm or company or weird codependent boyfriend. I want them to recognize what it feels like to be rested, healthy, sated, well loved. Sure, they're going to try curing their hangovers with Ding Dongs, and that's fine. But then later in the day I want them to say, "Wow, I could really use something green." I'm serious. I want that.

Which is why we feed them this way: food that is rich and delicious, yes, but that gives the kids that feeling of having been nourished by something substantial. If you have learned to like broccoli, then the world can do you no harm. Right? Right?

Whole-wheat Pasta with Broccoli Pesto and Garlicky Breadcrumbs
Serves 6
Total time: 40 minutes

There's lots of broccoli here--in the form of tender little florets and also in the form of a kind of pesto that's brightly seasoned with my favorite garlic-olive-oil-lemon-zest trifecta. Plus, crunch from the breadcrumbs. Yum. Like most recipes, this one is adaptable: if the combination of broccoli and whole-wheat pasta is simply too challenging, make it with wide egg noodles; if you don't have sun-dried tomatoes, or don't like them, add a few tablespoons of capers or chopped green olives; swap in chopped toasted walnuts for the breadcrumbs; or, if it's all too vegetarian for everyone, broil a couple skinless, boneless chicken breasts, slice them up, and toss them in when you're mixing the final dish. Some whole-wheat pasta is more equal than others--it can be gritty or dusty-tasting or gummy; I love, love, love the brand Bionaturae, and buy lots of it when it goes on sale at Whole Foods.

Kosher salt
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
4 tablespoons of butter, divided use
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, divided use
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, ideally from whole-grain bread (2 slices)
1 bunch of broccoli
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
2 pinches chili flakes (optional)
1 pound whole-wheat pasta shapes or spaghetti (I used Bionaturae-brand penne)
The finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Begin by putting a large pot of heavily-salted water on to boil for the pasta. If you're using the dry-pack kind of sun-dried tomatoes, cover them with boiling water and leave them to soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Make the breadcrumbs: heat two tablespoons of butter in a medium pan over medium heat and sauté one of the smashed garlic cloves until it's fragrant, then add the breadcrumbs and fry, stirring, until they are crisp and toasted, around 4 or 5 minutes. Leave them to cool in the pan, stirring occasionally so they don't burn from the residual heat.

Trim and peel the broccoli's woody stems, then chop all of it. I quarter the thick stems lengthwise and then slice them crosswise into small pieces; chop the crowns fairly fine, so that you have a mix of small pieces and crumbs. Squeeze the tomatoes to get the water out of them and chop them coarse (if you're using oil-packed ones, simply drain and chop them) and finely chop the rest of the garlic.

Heat 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic and chili flakes for a minute or so until it's all super-fragrant. Now add the broccoli and sauté it, stirring frequently, until it is very bright green, then add a half-cup of the salty-hot pasta water and cook, stirring, until the broccoli is tender but still green (you want it fully tender, but not yet turning that unappetizing khaki color that scares everybody). Turn the heat off under the pan.

Put half of the cooked broccoli into a food processor with its cooking liquid, the remaining 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil, the lemon zest, the parmesan, and the soy sauce. Whir it until it's smooth, then taste it: it should taste bright and rich and savory. If it's not quite there, add a bit more olive oil or salt or soy sauce.

Meanwhile, you'll have cooked the pasta. (I think a good time to put it in is when the broccoli is done cooking.) In a large bowl, ideally one that's not freezing cold (I use a heat-proof one and pop it in a 250 oven with the plates while I'm cooking), combine the drained pasta with the broccoli pesto, the remaining broccoli, and the sun-dried tomatoes. Serve topped with parmesan and breadcrumbs. 

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