I ran into it abruptly like seeing an old friend in an unexpected place. One October morning, it was just sitting next to the leeks at the farmer’s market. When I reached for that familiar allium, I noticed the Romanesco broccoli by its side. I first had Romanesco broccoli, better known as Roman cauliflower, while studying abroad in Rome. I’ve never seen it in the states until that fortuitous encounter. I scooped up the last two heads in the store, excited to reunite with a past fling from overseas.
My first experience with Romanesco broccoli was when my Italian host mother presented it to me at dinner one night. She called it cavolo, which means cabbage. Is it broccoli? Cauliflower? Cabbage? It doesn’t matter. It has a psychedelic, unfriendly appearance but astonishingly familiar taste. I couldn’t contain my excitement when my host mom first made it for me, in pasta, drenched with olive oil, salt, and pecorino (as Italians do). Delizioso! I exclaimed over and over, because that was the only way I knew how to describe food in Italian. Apparently, this translates to really fucking good because my host mom continued to serve it almost every night while it was in season, convinced it was il mio preferito.
So pasta was the first thing I thought of when I picked up the enigmatic vegetable that day. I decided to recreate the dish my Italian host mom had made, but add my American twist to it (i.e. meat and a zillion ingredients). You could use regular broccoli with this dish, too, and it will be excellent. But it won’t be delizioso.
Orecchiette with Sausage, Romanesco Broccoli, and Leeks
What you need
- 16 oz whole wheat orecchiette
- 16 oz of spicy pork sausage, casings removed
- 2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
- 1 large head chopped romanesco broccoli florets
- 1 TB white wine vinegar
- 2 TB butter
- 1 cup grated pecorino
What you do
-In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook orecchiette according to package directions. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.
-Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, cook spicy pork sausage, breaking up the meat. After about 8 minutes, add leeks and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 5 minutes more. Add chopped romanesco broccoli florets, another 1/2 tsp salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Add about a 1/4 cup of pasta water, cover, and steam for 8 minutes. Uncover, add 1 TB white wine vinegar and toss.
-Add pasta, butter, a whole bunch of fresh cracked pepper, and grated pecorino to pan with broccoli. Add more pasta water as necessary and toss to combine. Bring your fingers to your lips and kiss them like the Italians do in movies (they do not do this in real life). Delizioso!