Any honest gardener will admit to a lot of disappointments, small disasters, and unfulfilled ambitions. Heat waves sizzle delicate plants to a crisp. Hail happens. Or, maddeningly, a particular plant that’s supposed to be easy sizes you up and drops dead rather than be bothered with you.
You get hooked, though, because something always does so well that you can hardly believe it. This year, supposedly heat-loving exotics like winged beans and chayote refused to grow, but broccoli, which likes cool weather, is producing better than ever before. I’ve gotten heads almost a foot across and side shoots as big as my fist or bigger. When picked twenty minutes before dinner, broccoli has a delicate flavor and none of the funk that can develop when it sits around. There are hundreds of good ways to cook it, but one of my favorites for a fast healthy meal is a pasta with broccoli cooked in the pasta pot.
For two large servings and good leftovers, you need:
1 large head of broccoli or two smaller ones
8 oz of dry pasta (whole wheat pasta tastes pretty good in this dish)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large or 5 medium cloves garlic, sliced thinly.
one anchovy fillet, mashed (optional but gives depth)
half a teaspoon (or more) hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine
half a lemon
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
a scant cup of best Parmesan cheese, grated
Start a pot of salted water boiling. Cut the broccoli into slender “branches” by splitting the stems. Slice the garlic cloves. When the water comes to a boil, put in the pasta. Heat half the olive oil in a small skillet and saute’ the garlic cloves until cooked through over medium heat. Add the anchovy and red pepper, saute’ another minute, then add the red wine and boil until it’s reduced to half. Add salt to taste. Keep checking the pasta, and about 3 minutes before it’s done, put the broccoli in the pot. Make sure it’s submerged and the water returns to a boil, then check the pasta in 2-3 minutes, and as soon as it’s perfectly done, drain the pot and return the drained noodles and broc to the pot. Toss in the remaining olive oil, then the skillet contents, then toss in all but a little of the cheese and promptly plate the pasta, remembering to leave enough in the pot for lunch the next day. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each serving. Toss the pine nuts over the top along with the remaining cheese, and eat while hot. Elapsed time: about 15 minutes from the time the water comes to a boil to the table, if you’re reasonably quick and deft about splitting up the broccoli.
Don’t forget to scatter your vegetable garden with some flowers. It benefits the bees and it benefits your spirits.