Alternative Pasta Lifestyle: Orecchiette with Pancetta and Broccoli

After my success with the River Cafe’s pistachio cake (celebrated, originally, at The Food Section) I decided to go ahead and purchase the book it’s from: Italian Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. You can purchase it here:

This book is surely now the most vibrant in my collection. The cover is a shimmering mirror and the inside pages burst with pictures and recipes and novel layout designs. I really like it.

Most importantly, there’s the recipe for gnudi in there. Remember my 26th birthday lunch at The Spotted Pig? I fell in love with gnudi there and now I can make it. Stay tuned for that!

Last night (Monday night for those reading this in the future) I was hungry and I eagerly flipped through this new cookbook. I could have attempted something complicated but it was getting late and I’d still have to shop for ingredients, etc etc. So I settled upon Orecchiette with Pancetta and Broccoli.

I ran to Whole Foods and bought the appropriate ingredients. That amounted to: orecchiette, pancetta, and broccoli. Also: garlic and paremsan cheese. I could’ve bought a dried pepper (the recipe calls for it) but as you’ll see in a moment dried red pepper flakes (which I already had) worked perfectly.

This dish was a cinch to make. I got home and put two pots of water on the stove and got them boiling. I added salt to both. Once they were rapidly boiling (make sure it’s rapid) I added the broccoli (about 1/2 a lb, since I was cooking for 1—the recipe itself calls for 1 lb) which I chopped into little florets. The recipe says cook until soft and I kept tasting little pieces of broccoli so it wouldn’t get too soft. It took about 1 minute—then I drained it in the sink.

After that, I sliced one clove of garlic and cut about 2 slices of pancetta into thin matchstick strips. (By “slice” of pancetta I mean like bologna slice… you’ll know what i mean when you buy it.)

I added the orecchiette to the other pot of boiling water and poured 1 Tbs of olive oil in a skillet. Got the heat up, not too high, and added the garlic and pancetta. I stirred it around and let it cook, careful not to burn the garlic–controlling the heat but lifting the pan and turning the knob. The recipe says cook until pancetta is soft, not crispy. The garlic starts getting golden and that’s when you add the broccoli.** Cook for a few minutes more—let all the flavors meld. You should time it so the pasta is done just when the broccoli’s been in there for a few minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Shake it like your mama taught ya.

Pour into a bowl and cover with freshly grated paremsan cheese:

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**Oh! I forgot to tell you! Don’t forget! When you add the broccoli to the pancetta and garlic add salt and pepper and, most importantly, red pepper flakes. Do this to taste but don’t skimp on the red pepper, it gives the dish a great kick.

Well I have to say this is going to be a standard for me now. I loved this dish. It’s wonderfully complex and the components are so simple. Here’s what you get in your mouth: the smokiness of the pancetta, the flavor-charge of garlic and red pepper, the brightness of the broccoli, the perkiness of the cheese. The textures great too: orecchiette apparently means little ears. It’s a nice alternative to your humdrum tubes and spirals. Make sure you only cook til al dente—taste as you go, that’s what I do. How, without burning your mouth? Take it out of the boiling water with a spoon, bring it to the sink, run some cold water over it and taste. It should be firm to the tooth (that’s what al dente means).

Also, I want to conclude by saying this dish is really for meat eaters only. Don’t bother making this is if you’re a veggie: the pancetta is really what binds everything together. I’m sure at some point I’ll make a lovely vegetarian pasta that I’ll rave about. But this one’s for the omnivores. Bon apetit!

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