I’ve discovered the most amazing thing. Did you know there is this place called a library? And they let you borrow books for free?
I’m kidding, of course. Sort of. I mean, I know about the library – my kids are big fans. I hear people talking about how they take cookbooks out of the library and I just, well, I never had until last week. For reasons too boring to explain, I found myself post-yoga at a small neighborhood library with some time to kill. I headed straight for the cookbook section and was delighted to find some really interesting books. One in particular was The Zuni Café Cookbook. If you like to cook, you probably have that book. Maybe you are surprised that I don’t. It is a book I have picked up time and time again and have almost bought on many occasions. Something always stops me. This, I figured, was a perfect solution. I would borrow it for three weeks and if I loved it, I would buy it.
It became clear pretty quickly that I will not be buying this book. Oh, it is lovely and the food all sounds homey and comforting and amazing. The recipes are thorough, clearly written, and it is clearly a person – a lover of food – writing them. It is also incredibly heavy on the meat and there are anchovies in fully half of the more veg dishes. Plus gallons and gallons of olive oil. I know that restaurants tend to have a heavy hand with the olive oil. I have nothing against olive oil and I use it all the time. But sparingly. Yes, it’s heart healthy but it is still a fat.
I wanted to make something from the book before returning it and this pasta spoke to me. I liked that she suggested you use between 4 and 8 pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Yes, I love my spice! But at its heart, this is a restaurant dish. The kind that looks great and different on the menu, the kind that comes and the first few bites are absolutely delicious, and then you notice the puddle of olive oil under your noodles and you realize that you are not going to feel super well that night.
I tried to lighten this up and did a decent job. Rather than add tablespoons of olive oil three separate times (she suggests ¾ of a cup all together), I added it only in the beginning and then used water to keep the vegetables from sticking too much. I tossed the whole thing together with pasta water, lots of it – probably a full cup when all was said and done – which kept things moist. Maybe I should have been a tad less stingy and added a bit at the end. Anyway, what I took away from this dish is that the tri-color homemade fettucine at my farmers’ market is delicious, it is worth hauling out the food processor to grind up your bread crumbs so you have crumbs rather than croutons garnishing your dish, and I think I’ll make just the vegetables as a side dish soon. And back to the library I go!
One Year Ago: Soba Noodles with Vegetables, Crispy Tofu, and Sesame Seeds
Two Years Ago: My tried and true Guacamole
Pasta with Spicy Broccoli and Cauliflower
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook
I’m writing out the recipe with the changes I made. Even though I did not make them this way, I am including Rogers’ instructions for making the bread crumbs.
About 1 cup fresh, soft bread crumbs (optional)
12 ounces broccoli, trimmed with a few inches of stem intact
12 ounces cauliflower, stem end trimmed flush
1 generous tablespoon capers, rinsed, dried and roughly chopped
1 pound penne or fettucine
6 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. fennel seeds
4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes
¼ cup Kalamata olives, seeded and roughly chopped
If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Set aside.
Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally lengthwise. Most of the slices will break apart as you cut them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and a few deliciate slabs with stem and flower both. Don’t worry if the slices are of uneven thickness.
Set a large skillet over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, leaving behind the smallest bits on the cutting board (they will burn if you add them too soon). Cook the vegetables until you see the edges starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly, add the left behind bits to the pan, and toss and fold gently. If things are sticking too much to the pan, add a bit of water. Add the capers and mix gently. Continue cooking over medium heat for another few minutes, allowing the vegetable to brown gently, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling salted water. Stir, and cook until al dente.
Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender, reduce the heat and add the garlic, fennel, and chili. Give the vegetables a toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the olives. Carefully add the pasta to the skillet, using tongs for fettucine or a slotted spoon for penne. Add the pasta water by ladleful as needed to keep the pasta loose. Garnish with the toasted bread crumbs if desired.