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A warming – and simple – broccoli and pasta dish

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 9:08 a.m. CDT
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(AP photo)
Cold Weather Broccoli Pasta is shown in a serving dish

Whenever I have too little time and too few ingredients on hand — or when I've been eating too much meat – I cook up some broccoli pasta.

Which means I make it for dinner about once every 10 days! It's delicious, healthy, inexpensive and easy to prepare. The recipe, in fact, is a cinch, consisting of just a few ingredients — pasta, chicken broth, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil and a large head of the namesake crucifer. I always have four of those ingredients in house, so all I need to do is run out and pick up some broccoli and I'm good to go.

Another of this recipe's charms is its flexibility. I can swap in vegetable broth for chicken broth, spaghetti for the angel hair pasta, and any other grated hard cheese for the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sometimes I'll even lose the broccoli in favor of roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.

But what makes the dish so popular in my house is its comfort factor. I serve it soupy, so you can slurp the chicken broth along with the strands of pasta. I also make sure there's some crusty bread within easy reach, which helps to mop up the broth not captured with a spoon.

In the original version of this recipe (I've been making it for years), I sauteed the broccoli in olive oil over very high heat until it was quite brown around the edges. The problem with this method is that the broccoli quickly soaked up all the olive oil and I always ended up having to add quite a bit more. I switched to oven-roasting it, which helps to decrease the amount of olive oil necessary. It also requires very little baby-sitting.

This dish is so economical it's almost ecological. I use all of the broccoli, not just the florets. For years I used to trash the stems, but the stems are also plenty edible. Just peel off the skin, cut them up, and you're ready.

Cold Weather Broccoli Pasta

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

1 large head broccoli (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 quart low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 pound whole-wheat capellini pasta

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the oven to 450 F. Position one of the racks in the top third of the oven.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cut the broccoli, including the stems, into 2-inch pieces. Peel any thick stem pieces to remove the thick skin.

On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the broccoli in a single layer. Drizzle with the oil, then sprinkle with salt to taste and toss well. Place on the top oven rack and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is crisp tender and slightly brown at the edges. Transfer the broccoli to a large skillet, add the pepper flakes and the chicken broth, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the water in the large pot comes to a boil, add a hefty pinch of salt and the pasta. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is limp but not quite cooked through. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the broccoli pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt to taste. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and serve with crusty bread.

Nutrition information per serving: 470 calories; 160 calories from fat (34 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 25 g protein; 870 mg sodium.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."

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