Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Italian Flag: Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Broccoli

There's nothing like vine-ripened tomatoes. You don't have to do anything to them, and they are delicious. When the farmers at the Growers Market bring their first tomatoes to town, I throw caution to the wind and indulge in a classic BLT on white toast slathered with mayonnaise. When I want to gild the lily, I make a Salad Caprese. Just cut the tomatoes into thick slices, layer them with fresh mozzarella, garnish with basil, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. I'm partial to A Taste of Olive's Peloponnesian.

After the first flush of tomatoes, I start looking for more creative ways to use the bounty. Tonight I made the ultimate lazy summer dinner, rotini pasta with tomatoes and broccoli. It's easy to make, it's nutritious, and it's quick to clean up.

When I'm making a quick dinner, I try to get all my ingredients ready in advance. That way, I don't have to stop and start--once I put the pasta into the pot, there isn't much time for dawdling!

Here's the prep:
Start by putting a big pot of water on to boil. As you wait, chop a couple of cloves of garlic and put them in a medium bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (that Peloponnesian works well here, too). If you like a little heat, add red pepper flakes to taste. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Cut a large head of broccoli into bite-sized pieces and reserve. Stack about 12 leaves of basil, thinly slice, and reserve. Cut 8-10 small (2 inch) balls of fresh mozzarella into quarters and reserve.

Now let's cook:
Core two large washed tomatoes and cut an X at the other end. When the water comes to a full boil, drop the tomatoes into the pot and remove them after a minute. Put them into a bowl of ice water. Peel the tomatoes and chop them into 1/2 inch dice. Add the tomatoes to the olive oil and garlic. Add salt to taste to the water, and 1/2 pound of rotini noodles to the boiling water. Follow package direction for al dente pasta (I used Barilla, which cooks up in 7 minutes). When there is 3 minutes left to the cooking time, add the reserved chopped broccoli.

Drain the pasta and broccoli when it is just al dente, but reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. You might not need it, but if the pasta is a little dry, it's essential! Return the drained pasta and broccoli to the pot and add the tomato-garlic oil. Toss over low heat for about one minute to warm the tomatoes. If the dish is dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Remove from heat, add about 1/2 of the reserved basil. Toss. Put the pasta into individual serving dishes (2 main course servings, 4 appetizer servings). Top with the reserved mozzarella and garnish with the remaining basil. If you like, shave some pecorino romano cheese over the top. Serve with a green salad and good Italian bread.

This dish is open to many variations. Instead of mozzarella cheese, substitute diced pepperoni or ham. Instead of basil, use flat-leaved parsley. Instead of broccoli, try fresh peas or green beans (the peas cook in less time, while the green beans need to go into the pot along with the rotini). You can add a handful of pitted Italian olives or a sprinkling of toasted pignoli to the cooked pasta. If you have a hankering for this summer dish in February, use good-quality diced tomatoes in a can. It isn't quite the same, but it's still a quick, nutritious, easy dinner.


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