Healthy Eating

Pasta with Long-Cooked Broccoli

I’ve been working up the courage to tell you about this recipe for a few years now. Why courage, you may ask? What’s so daring about the timeless combination of broccoli and pasta, Deb? It’s cooking time. This broccoli is not al dente. It doesn’t “retain a crunch,” “still has some bite to it,” or keep any leafy greens that enter the pan with it. And, even more audacious, doesn’t want to do it. This broccoli applies the philosophy of cooking time to a fairly polarized vegetable from our present moment, when some of us advocate eating cauliflower, asparagus, and even broccoli raw when vegetables go through the fire. We do. [Or, in a twist on the words of a steak cooking chart I once saw on the wall of a restaurant in Texas: A good farmer could still save the vegetable.]

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But there is a time and place for the cooking of all vegetables, and this is one that really made me love what happens when broccoli is cooked until it starts to wilt. What’s important is that this isn’t the mushy, soggy, steamed broccoli nightmare of one’s childhood cafeteria or dinner at Grandma’s house. [Justice for grandmothers, always, however, for feeding us ingrates anyway.] It’s more silky, closer to braised, and has an elusive vegetable sweetness, a vegetable flavor that only comes with the luxury of the uncorked.

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Which is funny because it’s all in one pasta-and-broccoli serving that really is the perfect weeknight one-pan meal. It takes a page from an Apulian dish usually made with orecchiette and broccoli rabe (orecchiette con sime di rapa). The easiest way to make it is simply to boil the vegetables and pasta together, and finish with a dressing of olive oil, garlic, cheese, and seasonings as we do in this Pasta with Garlic Broccoli Rabe. But it falls apart in two ways. First, less divisive regular (calaberry) broccoli is swapped out for the broccoli rabe. Broccoli is first sautéed in a hearty glint of olive oil and lots of aromatics – garlic, lemon zest, black pepper, and anchovies, which are wonderful here, even if you think you don’t like them. This step ensures that the flavor of the final vegetable is not only steamed, but complex and aromatic when we next add both the dry pasta and water and finish cooking them together. I can’t wait for you to find out how good it is.

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Pasta with Long-Cooked Broccoli

  • 1 pound broccoli
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 5 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 anchovies, roughly chopped (optional, see Note)
  • Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • sparkle of white wine (optional)
  • 3 cups room temperature water
  • 8 ounces dry pasta such as fusilli corti or gemelli
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to finish (see Note)
Separate broccoli “treetops” from stems. Cut or break the tops into 3/4-inch florets. Peel the stalks of the knobs and slice them 1/4 inch thick.

In a large deep skillet or saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic, then turn the heat to medium-high. Cook till the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to turn golden. Add the anchovies, if using, lemon zest and pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes, using a spoon or spatula to break up the anchovies into small pieces. Add a glug of alcohol, if using, and cook until it has disappeared. Add broccoli and stems, kosher salt, and several grinds of black pepper, and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes; The color of the broccoli will get darker. Add the drained pasta and water and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pan and cook for 12 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Lift the lid and stir the pasta a couple of times as it cooks, just to make sure it’s cooking evenly. Take the pan off the heat and keep it covered for 5 minutes.

Remove lid, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Finish with lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, extra black pepper, and grated Parmesan. Spoon onto plates and serve with more Parmesan cheese.


  • Of course you don’t need to use anchovies if you don’t want to. For a similar-but-not-exactly-spicy addition, replace the anchovies with 1 to 2 tablespoons dried capers. If you don’t like capers too, that’s okay. Nor add
  • If you want to keep it dairy-free, you can swap out the Parmesan with breadcrumbs lightly toasted and seasoned in olive oil.
  • Some pastas—and people (sorry!)—are thirstier than others and you may find that you need an extra splash or two of pasta water to keep the dish cooked.
  • I’m using a pasta shape here called fusilli corti, which I’m glad got a dedicated shoutout at Eater last fall.
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