January 2017 can be characterized by spending time alone in an Airbnb, the first one I have every stayed in, and listening nonstop to Nina Simone.
At first, this whole “Airbnb” process was a bit of a struggle, but, now I am settled into a much comfier post where I can cook, eat, and bullshit. Well, I actually have many things to do besides lay in bed and finish the final season of Dexter…which I did, and, let me tell you, the execution of the series finale was nothing short of awful. I chose to stay in an Airbnb in Firenze for a few reasons, one being to independently experiment in the kitchen. Acclimating myself primarily through this part of the house, the “heart of the home” as my aunt puts it, enables me to find my place in this temporary home. That being said, I would like to share my first lunch I concocted here. Not one inch of it was premeditated, something I see as an achievement for someone who tends to analyze way ahead of time.
That morning, I explored the nearby Esselunga (supermarket) as well as local shops to get a whiff of the “highlights” of the neighborhood. I can proudly say that the small businesses surrounding my apartment provide a superior selection than the dull supermarket. I am also much more a COOP fan myself, anyways. I purchased small quantities of things, knowing well that sometimes I overestimate the bounds of my stomach walls. My handy Whole Foods Recycled shopping bag (said to be made of recycled materials) was filled with broccoli, fresh pappardelle, clementines, schiacciata, and so on. I aimed for seasonal and local. Clementines are in season in January, making the winter a little sweeter.
I probably would have bought a good 4 bags worth of stuff, if, ya know, I had 4 children and a hefty annual salary. Yet, I am still a student who is living within her means. It urges for more creativity, I think.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am enamored with broccoli. Our relationship started when I was 3 or 4, something like that. The years have been long and tumultuous that I cannot remember exactly. But, boy has it been delicious. Therefore, it needed to be part of the “initiation” meal.
I present to you: pappardelle con broccoli e pangrattato aromatizzato al limone.
It is a mighty simple dish for two. The breadcrumbs are truly what make it so enchanting. In Sicily, the poor used to toast breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top of pasta, since cheese was often too expensive. Usually, only the crumbs are toasted in the pan. I chose to add a generous drizzle of a Greek EVOO with a very deep flavor and a hard squeeze of a lemon to give a “perfume” to the crumbs. The articulation in describing things in Italian is incredibly sensual and on point.
Yes, I hand “crumbled” my bread. I had a day old rosetta* that I never completely finished. I tore it by hand last night and left it in a bowl to dry out. I hate letting things waste. Ok, that sounds like I did preplan a little, but I honestly had no idea I would apply the bread to this dish in this manner!
Patience is the key here. I do not have a food processor in my apartment. It is a light challenge. Then again, how did they do it before the food processor? Probably somewhat like this. Smash hard enough to make a difference, yet soft enough so that the crumbs to fly out to every corner of the kitchen. With patience, it eventually will all come together.
Time to toast. Heat the pan on a medium heat, add crumbs, and the EVOO. Make sure they are coated and spread out evenly. Watch carefully since they can burn easily. Squeeze the lemon among the crumbs. Wait until they have a deep brown color and you can smell the flavors fused into the toasty particles.
The rest is pretty simple. Use half of a large head of broccoli cut into small florets. This includes the stems, cut into small pieces! Do not waste them! They are underestimated and valuable! Boil the broccoli for 5 minutes prior to boiling the pasta.
Meanwhile, heat up 3 “glugs” of quality EVOO in a good pan on medium heat along with a chopped shallot and minced large clove of garlic. Do not let it burn. Once the broccoli is ready, add it. Coat the broccoli and give attention to the pan, stirring to avoid any burning. Let the broccoli cook for a few minutes, then add the fresh pasta to the water. (If using dry pasta, add it immediately after the broccoli is done.) Add pasta when ready (al dente) to the pan along with a full ladle of pasta water. It is essential to create a starchy sauce for the pasta. Let it bubble a little, then add around 2 tablespoons of panna da cucina (parmalat brand, if you can find it.) Use your eye as you move around the pasta, evenly distributing the panna while coating the pasta in the sauce you are simultaneously creating. Make sure it is not too dry, but not too runny. Trust yourself.
Finished? Plate the pasta (for 2!) and lovingly sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
This is a rough recipe because I encourage experimentation. There was not a written perfectly measured recipe for this dish before so I did not choose create one now. If you want more or less of anything, try it (with the exception of the cooking water; do not omit it.) If you cannot find parmalat panna then use a bit of heavy cream, or even grated cheese if you like! Parmigiano would work sensationally as long as you make sure it melts evenly into the sauce.
Cooking is an art form and, for us amateurs, we have the liberty to encounter fantastic outcomes as well as drastic ones.
*Rosetta is a type of Italian white bread that is also known as michetta. It is shaped like a rose, hence the name. It is known to be from Lombardy, but there is a Roman type that is more hollow in the middle. I am more familiar with the latter. I would eat it often as a child on the beach in Lazio with fresh tuna or mozzarella (or both.) It is nostalgically delicious to me.