As a son of the South, I have a thing for long-cooked vegetables. One of the dishes my mother made that I remember most fondly was her broccoli cream-cheese casserole, for which the broccoli was steamed until soft, then combined with cream cheese and butter, showered with bread crumbs and baked. It was a far cry from the crisp-tender, bright-green broccoli that took hold a decade or two later – it wasn’t health food, in other words – and I loved every bite.
This pasta dish from Alice Hart, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbook authors, reminds me of that casserole. Broccoli, boiled for a few minutes then cooked again until soft in garlicky butter, provides the bulk. The indulgence comes from blue cheese and a little mascarpone, which create a luxurious yet punchy sauce. For crunch, there are more pine nuts than might seem reasonable.
All of it, in fact, seems like too much, at least at first: The broccoli is cooked too long, there’s too much blue cheese, too many nuts. Until you taste it and realize that it’s perfect.
ZITI WITH BROCCOLI AND TOASTED PINE NUTS
Active: 20 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
4 to 6 servings
1 pound (about 6 cups) broccoli florets
12 ounces dried ziti pasta or other similarly shaped pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons mascarpone (optional; may substitute full-fat Greek yogurt)
4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) crumbled blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups pine nuts, toasted (may substitute toasted chopped almonds or walnuts)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and cook for 3 minutes until it’s bright green and crisp-tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the broccoli to a colander, and rinse with cold water to help set its color. Drain again and coarsely chop.
Return the water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, for 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, combine the butter and garlic in a large skillet. Place over medium heat and cook until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped broccoli; cover and cook until the broccoli is very soft, yielding easily to a wooden spoon, 4 to 5 minutes. (The garlic will be very soft, too.) Stir in the mascarpone, if using, and the blue cheese, until the cheese melts. Stir in the pepper and toasted pine nuts.
Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of its cooking water, and transfer the pasta immediately into the pan with the broccoli and cheese. Stir to combine thoroughly, adding some of the pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, as needed to create a creamy sauce that coats the ziti.
Divide among bowls and top with some Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired.
Toast the pine nuts in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition (based on 6 servings) | Calories: 530; Total Fat: 31 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 30 mg; Sodium: 300 mg; Carbohydrates: 50 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 18 g.
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