PrimO: Sicily - Busiate con Broccoli Siciliani e salsicce (Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage)

Broccoli (which belongs to the large cabbage family along with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) as it is called in English, means 'little shoots' in Italian: a clue to the dark green vegetable's origin, though it is not called so in Sicily. There it is known as called sparacelli, and cauliflower (cavolfiore in Italian) is refereed to as broccoli. In Rome, broccoli is called broccoli Siciliani; the light green pointed cauliflower (above left) that here we know as romanesco is known as broccoli romani; and then there is broccoletto romano - not really broccoli at all, but cime di rapa or broccoli raab, which is actually turnip tops.

Any of these green winter vegetables along with a couple of fatty pork sausages makes a wonderful, creamy sauce for fresh pasta, but I must confess I have fallen in love with the slight bitterness of the broccoli raab. Over the years I have often served broccoli and pancetta with (dried) orecchiette based on a recipe from a River Café book, but with a little extra work (handmade pasta and some of the vegetables whizzed up to make a sort of cream), it has become a new favourite. This is based on a dish that the cook at the school made one lunch, and as such it will always make me think of Case Vecchie.

It's worth bearing in mind that when serving pasta, the cook will often tell his / her guests, 'la pasta non aspetta' – meaning 'the pasta does not wait' – I recommend having your bowls warmed and the table set before you begin!

For 2

500g broccoli, broccoli romaneschi, or about 700g cime di rapa
extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, bashed with the back of a large knife
2 pork sausages, meat removed and broken into little pieces
sea salt and dried chilli flakes
250-300g fresh handmade busiate, or other short, semolina pasta
Pecorino Romano (or another hard sheep's milk cheese), to serve

Cut broccoli into little florets, peel the stem and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Cook both in a large saucepan of salted boiling water until they are quite soft and will give a bit when pressed with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove using a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water. Set aside about half the florets, and blitz the other half briefly with a stick blender.

Add a little more salt to the reserved water and cook the pasta until barely al dente - it should only take a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan and quickly fry garlic and sausage meat until crisp and golden brown. Add the broccoli and broccoli cream to the frying pan with the sausage and garlic, season with sea salt and a little dried chilli. As soon as the pasta is cooked add it to the pan with the sauce, tossing it to coat everything well - this is known as to 'finire in padella' (to finish in the pan). Add a little of the cooking water, and a splash of olive oil if you need to loosen the sauce a bit. Remove the garlic and serve with freshly grated cheese and a glass of Malvasia frizzante.

C(h)ook's notes:

  • The sausages should be Italian if at all possible, and a pezzi, not macinate, meaning that they are cut by hand, not ground - little flecks of meat and fat visible through their skins
  • If using broccoli raab, look for stems with plenty of flowers, and remove about a third of their leaves which can be quite bitter