This is a great side which can also be thrown over spaghetti to make a quick main course. Broccoli is a showy vegetable. The bright green florets, and mild green stalks, so uniform, but so wonderfully flowery. It is important to realize that broccoli is really two different things nestled into one. The tips of the florets are as the name implies, flowers, and subsequently cook very fast. In a pot of boiling water in seconds. The stems or stalks, it turns out, are stems and stalks. They take a long time to cook depending on the thickness, up to a quarter hour.
Given these varying conditions, how do we cook broccoli? My first introduction this broccoli conundrum was a few years back while dining with some coworkers at a steakhouse in Kansas City. The Kansas one, not the Missouri one. It seems Broccoli is a perennial favorite of steak houses, that and the all too common baked potato that takes a trolley to bring to the table. What intrigued me about their broccoli was the preparation. In particular, it was pan charred.
Charred Broccoli with Pancetta
This is all about the char, so we are really building a highly-flavored oil to char the broccoli in, that then becomes the sauce.
- 1 head of Broccoli
- A shallot sliced in strips
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed
- 4 oz 115g pancetta
- A good pinch of red pepper flakes
- 8 oz 230g of thin spaghetti (no3) I like 2 oz per person of dry pasta
Broccoli is intensely green and by quickly parboiling it you can lock in the green, keeping it beautiful.
Fill a sauté pan about ½ way with water and bring to a boil.
Cut the floret into bite-size pieces, making baby florets.
Put the cut florets into the pan of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes, no more.
Strain into a colander and run cold water over them to stop cooking as quickly as you can when cool, let air dry.
Note the vibrant green color.
Start a large well-salted pot of water on the boil for the pasta.
Creating Oil to Char in Flavor
In a large dry sauté pan, add three good glugs of olive oil cover the bottom well.
Over medium heat add the pancetta sauté until crisp and remove with a slotted spoon, reserving for later.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic, let the garlic slowly infuse the oil with flavor, do not brown.
Flip the garlic every so often.
When the garlic begins to brown, remove with a fork and discard.
Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, take care they can really add some heat, you can leave them out if you don’t like a little spice in your food.
At this point your kitchen will smell earthy and rich, we are ready to char.
Charing to the Finish Line
Turn the sauté pan to medium high and add the broccoli, taking care for any moisture that may splatter.
Turn to high and keep an eye.
I like to use tongs to turn every floret flower down at first. They will begin to char and absorb oil pretty quickly.
Add your thin pasta to the water, if using fresh it’s a 1-2 minute boil if box 4 minutes.
Throw shallots in the broccoli and oil and toss, continue to toss every 30 seconds or so until pasta is ready, remember we are charring not burning.
When your pasta timer is up, turn the sauté pan to medium-low.
Move the undercooked pasta to the pan.
Return the pan to medium-high and add a ladle full of pasta water add the cooked pancetta.
Toss well and let the water reduce, should take 2-3 minutes if it’s too dry add a bit more pasta water.
Once a slippery sauce has formed serve in bowls, and top with fresh parsley or a grate of hard dry cheese like parmigiano reggiano.
I had never considered charring the flowers while cooking the stems, it was lovely, theirs was served plainly with onions and bacon. Frankly, I liked it so much I use it a lot, not the least of which is this pasta. It’s you may know I love to make my own pasta noodles, I always recommend fresh, but if a box is what you have then it can work too. Personally, I prefer a thinner spaghetti here so the dish is a bit delicate even with the rich sauce.