In 2007, I spent a couple of weeks in Southern Italy researching wines for the A16 cookbook with my co-author, Shelley Lindgren. Shelley was six months pregnant. She did most of the driving, I did most of the drinking, and we covered some serious ground on the autostrade. Toward the end of the trip, we pulled into Trani, a small coastal city in northern Puglia. Our destination, Villa Schinosa, was decked in floor to ceiling marble, an elaborate break from the fields of vines surrounding it. We were there to taste a similarly elaborate wine: Moscato di Trani, a rare dessert wine. To make the wine, grapes are first dried on straw mats to concentrate the sugars, like the appassimento wines of Italy’s Veneto region. Although the wine has a long history in Trani, Villa Schinosa was one of the few producers making it in 2007. We sipped it from antique crystal wine glasses.
Compared with the aristocratic wine, lunch was simple and classically Puglian. The cook boiled up a huge pot of orecchiette. While the pasta cooked, she threw handfuls of leafy rapini into the pasta water. Then she heated up another pot with olive oil and added a few garlic cloves and dried red pepper flakes. She skimmed the rapini off the top of the pot, added it to the pot with the oil, and continued to simmer it gently. Once the pasta was drained, everything was tossed together. For someone like me who had been schooled in the ways of blanching and shocking green vegetables to retain color and crunch, this was a revelation. The soft greens soaked up the garlicky oil, coating the chunky “little ears” pasta. I asked for seconds.
Years later, broccoli or rapini (I like either) with pasta has become one of my staple meals. It’s easy to make and tailor to your taste. You don’t need a recipe to make this pasta. For example, I sometimes add onions. They don’t do this in Puglia, but it gives the pasta more substance. If you want more heft, fry and egg and slip it over the top. If you like anchovies, add a minced anchovy right before serving.
No matter what, you can't go wrong with a squeeze of lemon.
What you need:
Broccoli in florets or coarsely chopped rapini, 2 cups per person
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
A handful of sliced onion, if you’re so inclined
Red pepper flakes
A chunky pasta, like orecchiette or cavatelli, about 1 cup per serving
A block of Italian cheese for grating, such as Parmesan or pecorino
A lemon for zesting
What you do:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Add broccoli or rapini + boil for a minute or two.
Heat a large sauté pan with a generous glug of olive oil.
Add 1 or 2 smashed garlic cloves. (And onion, if you're into that sort of thing.)
Skim the broccoli off the water and add it to the sauté pan.
Sprinkle some red pepper flakes on top.
Dump the pasta into the water and cook according to the package directions.
Drain the pasta and toss everything together. Grate cheese and zest over the top and serve.