A pasta that is a really good listener, that's right Nonna's orecchiette.
As an adult I appreciate the benefits of my Italian heritage, even though these are 99% food related (sorry Caravaggio, Botticelli and the Medici family). As a child things were a little different, sure I loved food, but there was one dish that was my kryptonite, and that dish was pasta broccoli. My former younger self firmly believed that pasta should exclusively be served drenched in red sauce. Pasta with NO sauce seemed totally pointless, to be frank, tasteless.
Everyone in my family loves pasta broccoli, and as a child, I still remember vividly sitting at the dinner table, and thinking I had had some kind of culinary lobotomy. Why was everyone so enamoured with this simple dish of pasta and greens? Why had the hybrid English-Italian chit chat been put on pause while everyone shoveled this abomination down their throats in silence? And most importantly, would the diluted Cottee's cordial my Nonna made me be strong enough to wash down every resistant mouthful I took?
I petitioned against pasta broccoli for years, then one day out of nowhere, as if my taste buds had been realigned, I felt a different emotion towards this dish. I was converted.
These days I love the understated flavours of pasta broccoli, it's nowhere near as 'stage mommy' as its red sauce counterpart, and it's much lighter on the tummy. I also love that this was a traditional dish my Nonna used to eat on her farm in Calabria in the 1940s, and is now sharing with us.
500g Orecchiette pasta
3 bunches broccolini (Or, 2 bunches broccolini, 1 bunch rapini)
1 bunch of parsley
1 clove garlic
1 fresh chilli Juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper
This pasta dish is actually so easy to make it is a joke. Fill a big pot with water, and bring to the boil. Add a dollop of two of olive oil to the water and heaps of salt. Once water is rapidly boiling, add 500g Orecchiette pasta. Cook per instructions on the packet, remembering that you want it al dente, not mushy.
Fun bi-lingual fact: Orecchiette is called orecchiette because it looks like an 'ear'. The Italian word for ear is orrechio. So if you've had a hard day at work, know that this pasta is a really good listener, it's basically boyfriend material.
While the pasta is boiling, we get to the mean greens component of this dish. Firstly prep your ingredients, as this part is so super quick to cook, if you are cutting and cooking at the same time it will turn into a hot mess. Zest and juice one lemon, tear approx three handfuls of parsley, cut paper thin slices of garlic (use this as your reference for how paper thin), finely chop fresh chilli, and grate a 1/4 cup of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Snap the ends of your broccolini bunch and cut the remaining stem in half.
We are now good to go, I suggest listening to this before you begin the next step for ultimate Italian kitchen vibes.
Now, cover the base of a mid-sized fry pan with good quality olive oil and allow it to heat up. Once hot, add your garlic, fresh chilli, salt and cracked pepper to the oil and fry on a mid-heat. We are now flavouring the oil, the most important step as it informs the entire dish. The garlic slices should look slightly transparent, when they do add in the broccolini and fry all together.
As the broccolini starts turning into a more vibrant green, add in the lemon zest, remembering to season with salt and pepper as you go. While this is happening your pasta should have boiled. Strain the pasta and toss it into the fry pan with the broccolini. Fry together and add the juice of one lemon, and parsley, and cook until the broccolini is semi soft but not too soft. Take pasta off the heat and mix in the parmesan.
Assembling the dish, Nonna style
This is an old country style dish. Plating up has no fanfare. Just serve the pasta as is with some crunchy bread and antipasti on the side. My only kryptonite now is the garlic breath that ensues after eating this pasta broccoli.
This recipe was originally published on The Design Files as part of my Nonna Corso recipe series with photos by Eve Wilson. Yes, all of these recipes are certified nonna approved.