Last weekend, the three of us went to our favorite restaurant for a post-Valentines day lunch celebration. Roman sat happily through three courses- an amazing feat for a toddler. We enjoyed this dish made with paccheri which I decided would be easy enough to recreate at home.
Paccheri are a floppy, oversized pasta, whose name is apparently derived from Ancient Greek and refers to a larger than usual hand and a non-hostile "slap," maybe something like a "high five." I've also seen paccheri served stuffed, frequently with seafood, or baked in the oven with cheeses.
There are an estimated 350 pasta shapes here in Italy. I find the names of pasta interesting, descriptive- almost obviously so (maltagliati- "badly cut") and sometimes almost comical (if you think about eating something shaped after little ears, "orecchiette"). Italians seem to inherently know what type of pasta goes with which sauce. When I stopped in to buy the pasta for another dish last week, I told the salesman I needed spaghetti because I was making spaghetti all'amatriciana and his eyes just about popped out of his head in disbelief. The proper pasta for the amatriciana sauce is bucatini (a tubular long pasta), not spaghetti. Well, not according to the street sign welcoming visitors to Amatrice, the town for which the sauce is named. But as a foreigner, it's usually better not to argue about these things.
It's not the first faux-pas I've made. If I'm being totally honest, I don't always follow the golden rule and use abundant amounts of water to cook my pasta because I'm usually too impatient to wait for a huge pot to boil. I never add salt to the water, and I often reheat leftover pasta the next day, something an Italian home cook would never do. Other than that, I do cook my pasta just until al dente, about 2 minutes shorter than American cook times, and after my first few meals here, I quickly adjusted to this consistency.
Here in Rome I buy organic broccoli grown in Sicily. Raw it is truly bitter, but I see no good reason to eat raw broccoli. Steamed or sauteed it becomes sweet, mild enough for a toddler to enjoy. It seems to be his new favorite food!
Paccheri with broccoli and sausage
Inspired by our lunch at Santa Lucia
I recommend using luganega sausage if you can find it. It's a mild sausage that's sold by the meter rather than in links. If it's not available, a mild or spicy Italian sausage will do. For this dish, the top of the broccoli, just the florets, is shaved so finely that it cooks really quickly and adheres nicely to the pasta. Save the stalks to use for something else, like soup or stir fry.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb sausage, removed from its casing and broken into small pieces
1/2 a small onion, finely diced
The tops of about 2 heads of broccoli, depending on size (should yield about 3 big handfuls of finely cut broccoli)
paccheri or other large pasta, enough for 4 servings
parmesan or pecorino cheese for sprinkling
In a large frying pan, heat one tablespoon of oil and saute the sausage until brown. Remove from the pan. Add another tablespoon of oil and saute the onion until transparent. Add the finely cut up broccoli (use just the florets, and shave them off the head of broccoli with a sharp knife, and a few tablespoons of water. Cook this for about 10 minutes, adding small amounts of more oil or water so that the broccoli stays moist, then add the sausage back to the pan. Cover and cook for a few more minutes to make sure the sausage is cooked through. Watch carefully so you don't overcook the broccoli- it's prettier when it's still bright green. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package, then drain and toss in the pan with the sauce to coat. Sprinkle with some parmesan or pecorino and serve.