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.

Well, yes.”

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.


  1. Rosa says:

    A lovely story! That pasta dish looks amazing.



  2. Sara Lando says:

    this is the sweetest thing ever.
    And the two of you make my heart skip a beat each time I see you together ^_^

  3. Zita says:

    Awwwwwwww, this is such a romantic post! I nearly started crying! I have a small piece of broccoli at home. I might cook this broccoli pasta for my boyfriend tonight! 🙂

  4. Valeria says:

    Emiko, this is one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read, and it is precisely for the last thing you said, there is love behind food. Maybe I feel a little sympathetic at the moment, since love and food are the protagonists of my life and writing, but I truly loved every single word and I saw a bit of myself in that little apartment. Thank you for sharing your emotions in such a poetic way.

  5. J says:

    Hi Emiko,
    A really nice blog post and I have to follow up with Valeria (since I’m the J in her life…) and say that so much of what you wrote rings true for her and I. We had many evenings of emergency pasta making at 3am in her little kitchen while it was cold and wet outside. Always a nice touch to an evening I though.
    Thanks for your words, as it helps us to remember the path we are on and where we’ve came from.

    • Emiko says:

      To both Valeria & J (so you are he!), I’m so glad that this post rang a bell for you too. It’s been nearly 6 years since that night of broccoli pasta and sometimes it’s so easy to forget about those beautiful little moments! So every now and then it’s really nice to reminisce and remember why it is you do what you do. It sounds like you guys are on the same wavelength as us and I can just see the love in both of your comments! Thanks for writing.

  6. Hi Emiko,
    What a wonderful post, again.
    Food brings people together, it did so for me and my husband too.
    We can now share this together and I feel my love growing for him every time we have a fantastic food experience!
    I have a broccoli in my fridge and I think I might cook this dish tonight 🙂
    Love the picture of you and your husband!

    • Emiko says:

      I love hearing about food bringing people together, I truly think it’s one of the most powerful forces in the world for that! And any dish made with love, especially! Thanks for your comment, lovely Regula! x

  7. Francesca says:

    Hi Emiko

    I couldn’t agree more with what you say. And you and Marco make such a great couple! I am sure you will be happy in Australia!

    Funny that you tell this story. Just yesterday I thought of the first time I cooked for my husband, and it was a terrible plate of overcooked spaghetti with unsalted tomato sauce! It is also true that love goes beyond food! ;D

  8. corinne says:

    what a beautiful story, very touching 🙂 !
    BZW, I llike to visit your blog…. especially bcz I live in Switzerland but I’m very attached to italy, we have a house in the Maremma which is a dream place to go to.
    Merci !

    • Emiko says:

      Thank you Corinne! I love the Maremma too, in fact these photos were taken at our beach house there too! It’s such a beautiful place.

  9. Emiko, this is one of my favorite pasta dishes … healthy, tasty and fast … ideal for somebody like me who doesn’t have your cooking talent :-). Btw, you guys look super cute in the polaroid! Sofie x

    • Emiko says:

      Thanks Sofie! 🙂 it’s such a good dish to have in the memory bank, so quick and yummy – I can’t really take much credit for it really, it’s such a traditional dish that I’m sure hundreds of nonne pugliesi can do better with their eyes closed!

  10. Ana says:

    Emi, Shunji just made this dish for me last night and told me to read this post… I loved it. I cried. What a beautiful story!! And I really like this dish too! I could feel the love in it. Shunji also won my heart with his cooking the first night we hooked up. Definitely something in the family… Much love to you and marco and lil one Xxx

    • Emiko says:

      That’s wonderful Ana! Glad to hear my little brother’s skills are being put to good use, like winning over beautiful girl’s hearts 🙂

  11. Caroline says:

    Hi Emiko, I have become your regular reader. I don’t know if you’d remember, but in 6th grade, you once came over to my apartment, and you tried this Filipino beef broth dish that had a really oily after taste but you were so nice about it! You kept asking for table napkin to wipe off the oil but I didn’t have any so you were like “Whatever toilet paper will do!” It’s just one really fond memory I have of you. Anyway I really enjoyed reading your love story and for some reason it got me teary-eyed. I guess your story was a universal one that everyone was somehow able to relate to.

  12. Judy says:

    Aaawwwhhhh! Such a sweet story! You two make a beautiful couple! Thanks for the recipe, sounds great, can’t wait to try it!

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I love this dish and the story that goes with it. I’m a very lazy cook though and I usually just throw my broccoli in with the pasta about four minutes before the pasta is cooked then cook the garlic and chilli in the olive oil. Love your blog.

  14. erick says:

    Love is perfect.

    I enjoy your style of cooking. Thus far, I’ve made the brodo, minestrone and this broccoli pasta, exactly as written. My little Chinese woman loves her broccoli…

    I just ordered your book, Florentine, and pre-ordered Acquacotta; I’m looking forward to trying many recipes.

    Best to you and hubbie.

  15. Ellen says:

    How sweet–and believe it or not, pasta con broccoli was the first dinner I made for my husband, when he was just my boyfriend 34 years ago. It seems that the adage “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is true!

  16. Ian says:

    Thanks Emiko. From another Canberran…your last line is perfect and I’m going to use it. I’m getting my 3 kids into cooking – aged 9 and 10 – and always quote Disneys Princess and the Frong when Tiana’s Dad says “you know the thing about good food, it brings people together, warms them up inside, puts a smile on their face”….

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