Orecchiette con Broccoli: The way to a man’s heart
The first time I ever cooked something for the man who is now my husband, it was an impromptu event where I managed to throw together a pasta dish with an almost empty fridge.
We still didn’t know each other very well, were a long way away from finding out all the things there are to know about each other. We were still very nervous about what the other person thought, still trying to impress each other. And so it happened, during a cold and miserable February, late one night (much too late to even find a kebab shop open) when Marco stopped by my apartment after his shift and mentioned that he was hungry.
“I can make you something,” I offered immediately, barely even thinking whether or not I even had anything edible in the fridge.
“You can cook?” He asked, almost in disbelief. I think he was so impressed because he himself had never cooked before.
I was living alone in the tiniest apartment you could imagine on a winding little street a few steps away from the Ponte Vecchio. It had just one window but from that window came the sound of the church bells ringing next door and the view of a single cypress tree. My little nest. I loved it, except for the fact that the fridge was actually just a minibar and the stove top only had one burner that actually worked.
We were sitting in my tiny kitchen, by my only window. I opened the fridge. Empty except for one small head of broccoli from the grocer’s down the street and a piece of pecorino cheese. A fairly dismal offering for the love of your life. Strangely, at the time I didn’t seem to think about that, I didn’t even falter.
“Do you like broccoli? I can make you some pasta with broccoli.”
“Perfect,” was his reply. He didn’t falter either, even though some time later I found out that broccoli wasn’t actually something he would voluntarily eat.
As I only had one burner working, things took a little longer to prepare than in a normal kitchen; a glass or two of wine helped pass the time. I started with the broccoli.
This is actually a simple dish from Puglia in Southern Italy, traditionally always prepared with orecchiette pasta, little ear-shaped rounds of pasta. The broccoli is usually boiled or blanched first (use the same water to then cook the pasta in afterwards), but I like my greens crunchy. I simply chop the broccoli into small pieces and sauté it with a squashed garlic clove or two in some olive oil until the broccoli is bright green and soft, but still a little crunchy. Add some dried chilli and season with salt (I also like a squeeze of lemon at this point), then set it aside until the pasta is ready.
Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water. You may want to add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to your broccoli. When the pasta is perfectly cooked and drained, add it to the pan with the broccoli and toss until combined then serve immediately with a handful of grated Pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil over the top.
I handed Marco the plate. He took a bite, then looked at me and said, “I’m going to marry you,” and promptly finished off the whole thing. I was head over heels. Two and a half years later we did get married, not too far away from that little studio apartment. So I guess what they say is true, that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
I never did make this dish again for him until now, it would never have topped that moment when something magical was happening. Also, after finding out that Marco was actually a carnivore and barely ate vegetables before he met me, I found other things to cook for him, things that he would marvel at and that would make him happy. Then something else happened. He learned how to cook for me, and it’s been that way ever since. In fact, almost all the dishes photographed for this blog and almost every day at home, Marco is the one behind the stove, cooking away with an endless curiosity, finding things to make me happy. So this is a post for my husband, to thank him for all the wonderful things he makes for me and for this blog. Cooking is putting your heart on a plate.