Hopefully we are at a point now where it is no longer considered a faux pas to, you know, actually cook a vegetable. I know there was a time when all vegetables were indiscriminately boiled to death. Then came the rebellion, and all vegetables had to be served just lightly waved over steam. Your jaw got a good workout in those years.
The truth is many vegetables can yield different pleasures depending on the time, temperature, and technique by which they are cooked. Broccoli that is steamed or boiled for a long time is horrible gray, sulfurous stuff. But broccoli that is slowly, slowly pan-roasted in a good amount of olive oil becomes meltingly tender and luscious. It makes a perfect condiment for the al dente chew of properly cooked cavatelli.
I happened to get this wonderful hand-cranked cavatelli maker as a birthday present. This was my inaugural run with it, and I have to say pretty darn successful. It makes this terrific click-click-click as the cavatelli come popping out of it. Very fast and easy. But you can make this recipe with store-bought cavatelli or any other small, fairly dense shaped pasta.
This dish would more typically be seasoned with a modest amount of chili flakes, and that was exactly where I was headed until I spotted the jar of harissa in my fridge. The thought of that more complex flavor was impossible to resist, and I’m glad I didn’t try. Big handfuls of parsley and mint at the very last second add a nice fresh finish.
One last bit of business before we get to the recipe: this is an exciting week at ChefSteps! We just launched our very first product: House Rub 01 (the video is real meaty so don’t go watch if that bothers you). The rub is terrific on tofu, potatoes, cauliflower… really just about anything where you want a heady mix of aromas. We grind them each individually to the perfect size to emphasize their individual characteristics and then blend them up just before shipping so they are super fresh.
Vegetarian; vegan if you don't serve the parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 head broccoli, florets cut bite sized; stems peeled and cut bite sized
- 2 teaspoons harissa paste (see above)
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound cavatelli pasta
- 1 packed handful parsley leaves
- 1 packed handful fresh mint leaves
- Maldon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Freshly ground Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in your largest skillet. Add the garlic and saute for about 20 seconds. Add the broccoli, harissa, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and reduce heat to medium low. Cook, turning occasionally, until the broccoli is completely tender and meltingly delicious - I've been known to let this go for 45 minutes or more. Add a little more olive oil during the process if it seems advisable.
- Put aside four bowls to warm.
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Transfer to the skillet with the broccoli, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Raise the heat to medium-high. Toss the pasta with the broccoli. If it seems a little dry, drizzle in some of the pasta water to develop a bit of moistness and shine. Taste and adjust seasoning; it will probably need more salt.
- Stir in the parsley and mint. Divide the pasta among the preheated bowls, hit with a few flakes of Maldon salt and some freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately, passing the Parmesan cheese at the table if using.