When I was 15, however, a miracle happened. My —then— new friend Francesca invited me over for lunch on a Saturday and when we got to her dad's house he was already in the kitchen, cooking away. "I made your favorite," he told his daughter. And then to me: "I hope you like pasta with broccoli!"
I hated pasta with broccoli.
The pasta part was fine, of course, but broccoli were one of my least favorite vegetables. What I really didn't like was the odd consistency of the florets, which my parents loved and always left whole. Well, that one Saturday afternoon at Francesca's house I was in for treat. The broccoli was sort of mashed, first of all, which solved the consistency problem, and it was wonderfully spicy and flavorful. In other words, it was the best pasta with broccoli ever. I ate it and when I got back home that day I told my mom that, if she wanted me to eat broccoli, she would have to prepare them like that. What a revelation.
To this day, orecchiette with broccoli is one of my favorites and this past weekend Francesca prepared it for me as a way of saying "welcome back". It was delicious as it always is.
ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI
In a large pot bring water to a boil, season it with salt, then blanch the broccoli in it until crisp tender. Using a slotted spoon transfer broccoli to a pan but keep water and use it to cook pasta.
Drizzle broccoli with olive oil, season with salt and crushed red pepper to taste and add a few tablespoons of the water to the pan. Add half a vegetable bouillon cube and cook over medium heat and mash broccoli with a fork or wooden spoon. Serve over pasta.