There are a few autumn staples we can’t live without, and one of them is burnt broccoli. Burning food seems like a contradiction, but the intentional charring of antennae-studded florets is a true phenomenon. I don’t believe I’ve come across a single eater who’s confessed to turning down burnt broccoli, not even my baby brother who has an inherent fear of anything green.

As you might have gathered, I’m a big fan of meals in a bowl, and what began as a side dish quickly morphed into the star ingredient in a creamy garlic pasta spiked with capers that became the meal. Tamar Adler has me on a vinegar-kick. In her book An Everlasting Meal, her catch phrases seems to be “splash it with vinegar” and “toss it with a bit of vinegar” and vinegar this and vinegar that. Her message must have reached my inner fork when her chapter on “how to be powerful” in the kitchen rekindled childhood memories of Mamma sneaking vinegary capers into a cheddar, tuna and penne pasta casserole. They had such a refreshing zing that brings the broccoli to life, balances the roux and makes the dish a complete, mouthwatering success.

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How to make bread crumbs

Stefan Senders taught me that bread never goes “stale” but merely transforms into new ingredients. Here are his instructions for making bread crumbs:

“It is VERY easy to make breadcrumbs, and once you get started using them, you’ll never run out of ideas. Take your old bread, slice it, toast it and then chop it, grind it, or pulverize it in a food processor or blender. That’s all! Of course, you can vary your crumbs by making them more crispy (toast them more), less crispy (toast them less or not at all), savory (add herbs or spices, such as sage, rosemary, red pepper, rosemary, salt, black pepper, curry powder, etc.) or sweet (add sugar, honey, or maple syrup). You can make them moist by adding olive oil, or you can make them very dry. And of course you can vary the size and shape of your crumbs; fine, powdery crumbs are lovely, as are rugged crags.”

If you don’t have stale bread or a blender, you can call your local bakery (like Metropolitan Bakery or Ithaca Bakery) to see if they sell breadcrumbs. They’ll be much tastier and healthier than what you find at the grocery store, which often has mysterious flavorings and preservatives.

 

Burnt Broccoli and Caper Mac n’ Cheese

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Serving Size: 4

Ingredients

  • Burnt Broccoli:
  • Brocolli - 2 heads broccoli, chopped into small florets plus chopped stem
  • Olive oil - 2 tablespoons
  • Sea salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Black pepper - 1/4 teaspoon, freshly ground
  • Pasta:
  • Pasta shells - 4 portions
  • Roux (White Sauce):
  • Butter - 2 tablespoons
  • Flour - 2 tablespoons
  • Milk - 1/2 cup milk, added 1/4 cup at a time
  • Garlic - 2 tablespoons, minced
  • Pasta water - 1 1/4 cups warm pasta water
  • Parmesan cheese - 1/4 cup, grated
  • Sea salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Pepper - About 8 turns of the pepper mill
  • Garnish:
  • Breadcrumbs - 1/4 cup, (recipe for homemade breadcrumbs above)
  • Capers - 3 teaspoons or more
  • Parsley leaves - 1/4, minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Chilli flakes - (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Put a pot of water on the stove for cooking the pasta. Heavily salt the water, ocean-like, and bring the water to a boil while you prepare the broccoli.
  2. Move an oven rack to the middle rung, and preheat the oven to broil on high.
  3. Toss the broccoli, olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet and broil on high for ten minutes on the middle rack. The broccoli is done when the edges of the florets and stems are browned and crispy. Cover with foil or transfer to a closed container to keep warm.
  4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente (ever so slightly undercooked or chewy). The pasta package should specify the time needed, or taste as it cooks.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, make the roux. Melt the butter in a medium pan. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour just when the cube of butter finishes melting. Stir quickly and try to keep the consistency smooth (though you will inevitably have some lumps at first).
  6. Mix in a 1/4 cup of milk and smoothen the sauce to a thicker consistency. (You can also use a whisk).
  7. Add the garlic and stir again.
  8. Add another 1/4 cup of milk and mix again until the sauce thickens to a smooth consistency.
  9. Scoop out 1 1/4 cups of the starchy pasta water from the pasta pot. Now begin adding the pasta water in 1/4 cups, stirring constantly until the sauce continues to thicken, grow in quantity and become silky smooth. I ended up adding a full cup.
  10. Add the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and another 1/4 cup of pasta water if necessary to smooth and thin the sauce a bit, since the parmesan will thicken it up considerably and we still want the sauce to coat the pasta lavishly.
  11. Add the salt and pepper.
  12. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss in the broccoli, capers and breadcrumbs (saving a few breadcrumbs for sprinkling on top of each serving).
  13. Serve garnished with breadcrumbs and minced parsley. For an extra kick, add chili flakes.

Notes

Allergens: dairy, milk, wheat

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