Monday, 29 December 2008

Broccoli pasta bake (Μπρόκολο με ζυμαρικά)

Our winter garden can only be deemed a success - never before have I seen large unblemished heads of broccoli and cauliflower, bursting out of their leafy homes, growing in the damp December soil of the Cretan earth. This garden fresh produce has replaced our regular weekly serving of stamnagathi salad. The only problem is that we planted them all at the same time, and can't eat them as quickly as they grow, meaning that some have been given up to very appreciative neighbours.

december garden hania chaniabroccoli cauliflower

Broccoli doesn't need much cooking time when it is boiled and eaten as a salad, as it contains a lot of water and becomes mushy when overcooked. We started off eating it as a plain warm horta-style salad, flavoured with the typical Greek oil, lemon and salt dressing. A very pretty version of this is to mix cauliflower and carrots with the broccoli.

winter salad

Broccoli is also a great addition to a stir-fry, since it doesn't need a long cooking time, and stays crispy: the less broccoli is cooked, the more its antioxidant value and Vitamin C content are retained.

Wild black mustard: a relative of broccoli. Considered a weed by most people, it's edible.

Broccoli is a perfect match for cheesy pasta sauces. It has a leafy taste similar to horta, it's practically odourless (compared with cauliflower) and its greeny-blue colour blends well in a macaroni hotpot. The Romans were most likely the first to grow broccoli, hence their Italian name. Broccoli is related to the cauliflower (which it resembles very much, save the colour) and the cabbage, but it also related to a largely unknown leafy green: wild mustard. The shape of the leaves of the mustard plant resemble the broccoli's, and the flowers of the mustard plant look very much like tiny heads of broccoli. Wild mustard grows profusely in Crete, and those who know it use it as a leafy green in various dishes.

A search through the internet for pasta broccoli recipes reveals that pasta-broccoli dishes are one of the more kid-friendly green meals. Apparently a broccoli pasta hotpot freezes well, but it's very simple to make when you have some fresh broccoli on hand, as it uses mainly kitchen staples like milk, cheese and pasta. You can also add other bits and pieces to spice it up a little. My version includes spicy sausage.

broccoli pasta

You need:
500g pasta of your choice: I used a mixture of cheese-filled tortellini and penne
a small head of broccoli, cut into florets: I also used the tender parts of the stalk, sliced thinly
a few tablespoons of olive oil: in Crete, we use a lot more than that
a large onion, chopped small
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small ripe tomato, pureed
1 spicy sausage, cut into very thin slices
a cup of grated cheese
500g of milk: non-fat milk won't work very well; you can use cream, but it's more fattening
1-2 tablespoons of mustard
salt and pepper

broccoli pasta broccoli pasta

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the broccoli and pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes, then drain well. While this is happening, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic till translucent. Add the sausage and cook till heated through. Mix in the mustard and tomato (these two ingredients are optional, but they lend a spicier taste to the finished dish); season with salt and pepper. Mix the sausage with the cooked pasta and broccoli till well blended. Pour into an oven-proof dish, and mix in the cheese. Pour the milk over the pasta and bake for half an hour, till the milk turns into a sauce and the cheese has melted.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything.

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