I love watching my favourite television show, Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano), the best detective show since Columbo in my opinion. Set in Sicily, it has the perfect mix of intriguing dealings between typical small town characters, corrupt politicians, the mafia, human traffickers and the Catholic church.
The show gives a good flavour of Sicilian life, which is often unfairly maligned. The setting is in ancient towns overlooking crystal blue waters (in which Montalbano swims in every episode). An extra perk for food lovers is that Montalbano is obsessed with food and in the books describes his traditional Sicilian meals in great detail. In the television show he beams as he devours his food, seemingly having a religious experience.
I am not alone in vicariously enjoying the Sicilian good life through Montalbano. There are blogs dedicated to the food that he eats and even a cookbook of the dishes prepared in each episode.
In the episode “Find the Lady” (also called “The Game of Three Cards”), a rich but miserable old man, Cascio, is hit by a car and only his accountant attends the funeral. The accountant doubts that Cascio’s death was an accident, so Montalbano goes to the accountant’s house to question him. When he arrives, he is greeted with a delicious aroma as the man is preparing his own supper and invites Montalbano to join him. Montalbano is never able to refuse a good meal and the temptation is too great when the man reveals that he is preparing pasta with broccoli and admits to being an excellent cook.
Pasta with broccoli happens to be a staple in my house. Not only is it simple to make with a few, easy to procure ingredients but everyone loves it and it can be prepared for vegetarians (leave out the anchovy), gluten-free (use gluten free pasta), diabetics (use Kamut pasta) and anyone of any religious persuasion. As I am a magnet for people with food restrictions, this dish is a God-send.
A huge bonus is that broccoli is a super-star food as it is rich in vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium, phosphorous and sulforaphane (a phytonutrient shown to lower the risk of some types of cancers).
Orecchiette con broccoli (cup-shaped pasta with broccoli)
I make the version of this dish from Puglia which is traditionally made with turnip greens (cima di rapa). As these are less easily available abroad, I often use broccoli instead but they can be used interchangeably. For a step-by-step illustrated guide to the recipe, see here.
I even have a few shortcuts for my quick and easy mid-week meal. If I have leftover broccoli from a side dish of broccoli with garlic and anchovy (see recipe here), I will reheat it and puree it to dress the pasta. Also if I have left over bagna cauda, I just boil the broccoli and mash it with the bagna cauda to dress the pasta.
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
5 anchovy fillets or 10 cm of anchovy paste
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes depending on how you like it
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.2 kilos broccoli, stem removed and cut into florets or 2 kilos turnip tops (cima di rapa), rinsed, large or yellow leaves removed, woody stems removed and leaves shredded (see a guide here)
½ teaspoon sea salt
500 grams orecchiette pasta (can substitute rigatoni)
Bring to a boil 7 litres of water with 70 grams of salt added to cook the pasta in. Do not add oil to the water. (Don’t worry about the amount of salt, it is drained away with the water but gives the pasta flavour.)
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add 30 mls of olive oil. Add the anchovies first and stir until they melt into the olive oil. Next add the chilli, garlic, and salt.
Stir until fragrant (1-2 minutes) and remove from heat (can add a bit of water if the garlic begins to colour).
Cook the turnip tops (or broccoli) in the boiling water for 6 minutes (8 minutes for broccoli) and remove with a slotted spoon to the chilli, garlic, and anchovy mixture with 2 tablespoons of the pasta water.
Add the orecchiette to the water and cook for the time indicated on the instructions on the package.
Meanwhile if using broccoli, smash it up with the back of a spoon or spatula and sprinkle with the salt. You can also puree it a bit in a food processor if you prefer it more consistently smooth. Remove pasta and drain well (do not rinse) and add to the turnip top mixture.
Add the 70 mls of olive oil, mix well, and top with a bit of freshly ground black pepper.
My second gift to you this week is an episode of Montalbano. Warning: once you have watched one, you will be hooked….and will be looking for Sicilian recipes.
Here is a link to BBC4 which has all the episodes with English subtitles. You can also get them all on iTunes.
What is your favourite crowd-pleasing mid-week meal?
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