THE CANNY COOK: Orecchiette pasta with broccoli and anchovy sauce


A simple pasta dish that delivers so much more than the sum of its parts

It has been a good few months since grocery price inflation started falling, which comes as a huge relief. 

Apparently the average cost of a pack of butter has dropped 16p from last year, and while not all decreases have been as significant, it certainly takes a little pressure off our weekly shops. 

Hopefully things will continue in this direction, but I think we all remain conscious of keeping costs down and I still find cooking with humble ingredients so rewarding. 

There’s something magical about taking basic items of food and transforming them into a delicious meal. This week’s pasta recipe is a prime example of such cooking.

It is based on a typical dish from Puglia, a region of Italy that is known for its ‘cucina povera’ (poor cuisine) and celebrates the most everyday of vegetables, broccoli. 

It goes against every instinct I have when cooking broccoli because here you overcook it, so much so that it breaks down and turns into a gloriously tasty sauce, helped along by anchovies and some golden garlic. 

Anchovies are a wonderfully cost-effective ingredient for imparting a deep savouriness to dishes. When you fry them with garlic they simply melt into the oil like an invisible flavour bomb.

You can use any pasta shape, to help bring costs down further, but orecchiette (little ears) are great as they act like small scoops for the sauce.


Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Trim off and discard the end of the broccoli stalk, then cut into medium florets and dice the remaining stalk. Add to the pan of water and simmer briskly for 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm 100ml olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Finely chop the garlic and anchovies and add to the pan, frying for 3-4 minutes and stirring regularly. Add a few chilli flakes if you like a bit of heat.

With a large slotted spoon or sieve, scoop the broccoli out of the water and add straight to the frying pan.

Place the pasta in the saucepan of boiling water and cook for 1 minute less than pack instructions. While the pasta cooks, fry the broccoli with the garlic and anchovies over a medium heat, stirring regularly. It should soften and break apart.

Scoop the pasta out of the boiling water and add to the frying pan with a splash of the cooking water. Stir the pasta with the broccoli over the heat for a final minute – it should be coated in a glossy sauce. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a little lemon zest, if you like. I serve it with grated parmesan, though toasted breadcrumbs are more traditional.

  • Do you have a great recipe for eating well and cutting food bills? Email [email protected]. If we print it here, we’ll send you a bottle of champagne.

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