Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
My mom’s broccoli pasta was a staple in my family growing up. As with most of her “recipes,” she never measured ingredients and often riffed on the formula based on the contents of our fridge—which makes her dishes a bit challenging to recreate. So while that pasta is the inspiration for this one, it’s more of an abstract inspiration, using the few constants: Garlic, broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed together and deglazed with white wine. That became the foundation of her cheesy sauce, spiked with generous grinds of black pepper. Sometimes she would add creamy ingredients like ricotta or yogurt, but my rendition here is a lighter take, more focused on pantry staples.
Another idea I’ve borrowed from my mom here is utilizing the oil in which the sun-dried tomatoes are packed, boosting flavor and deepening the color of the dish. Buying the oil-packed variety rather than dried is always the way to go, in my opinion, and not just because of the benefit of a two-in-one ingredient. Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil tend to be sweeter and have a softer texture than their chewy counterpart.
The tomatoes themselves have quite an assertive taste, so they’re usually not a fit for more delicate dishes. This boldness is their superpower though, making them a secret weapon for fast, flavor-packed weeknight dinners. As with other preserved ingredients used in cooking (olives, artichokes, etc.), they’re delicious enough to eat straight out of the jar.
As my mom’s method demonstrates, many components of this recipe can be swapped. For example, onions or even scallions work in place of the shallots, which bring a subtle sweetness. The Worcestershire sauce can be skipped if you don’t have it on hand, but the savory depth it brings to pastas (and endless other dishes) makes it well worth adding to your kitchen. You can add either ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes for spice to play off the rich cheese; opt for the latter if you prefer more heat. And any similarly sturdy vegetable can replace the broccoli.
I intentionally cut the broccoli into smaller florets than I would for roasting so that there’s more surface area for the sautée, and therefore more opportunities for flavor development during the quick recipe. The florets still maintain a welcome crunch, thanks in part to an ice-water bath after their brief plunge into boiling water.
From blanching the broccoli to boiling the pasta to incorporating it with the sauce, all of the cooking steps happen in one pot. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what made my mom love this dish so much in the first place.
These days I enjoy it with white wines with a bit of body and roundness to them, like a recent pairing of Arnaldo Caprai Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante from Italy’s Umbria region. I found the 2018 vintage at a local shop, priced at just $16. Its floral qualities really sang after a bite of the bright-and-sweet sun-dried tomatoes, while the wine’s body and acidity helped it stand up to their bold flavor without overshadowing the shallot and broccoli.
Cheesy Broccoli Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato
Pair with a white wine that leans toward medium-bodied, with substantial acidity and floral notes, such as Arnaldo Caprai Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante 2017 (88 points, $20).
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Approximate food costs: $20
- 3 cups (about 7 ounces) broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1/2 pound fusilli pasta
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, julienned (about 8-10 whole), plus 2 tablespoons of the oil
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- Red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more for topping
1. Boil well-salted water in a large pot. Add the broccoli and blanch for 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl filled with ice water using a slotted spoon or tongs.
2. With the water still boiling, add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain and transfer pasta to a bowl.
3. Set the pot over medium heat and add the sun-dried tomato oil. Add shallots and cook for 3 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes and black pepper or red pepper flakes. Season with salt and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until the garlic and broccoli begin to brown.
4. Add white wine and 1/4 cup of pasta water and let the liquid reduce slightly for 2 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire, grated cheese and pasta. If the mixture is too dry, add more pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt (and black pepper, if using) then transfer to bowls and top with more grated cheese. Serves 4.