spring pasta

Pasta with broccoli - the perfect spring supper.
Pasta with broccoli – the perfect spring supper.

This week I celebrated the arrival of my new baby: a beautiful, pristine Cambridge-blue ceramic pan.

Yes, I’m aware this is a little strange. Most people celebrate the arrival of actual children, of Spring, of parcels and packages and Christmas and birthdays. But those of you who understand the excitement associated with a new kitchen accessory – its perfect white ceramic surface gleaming up at you – you’re my kindred spirits. We’ll be completely mad together.

The colour makes me think of spring, which is fitting because it’s growing ever so slightly warmer in London – by which I mean you can now leave the scarf, hat and gloves at home and just go out with a coat and umbrella. Every day I throw open the curtains and peer eagerly up at the sky, just waiting for the moment I can put away the Vitamin D tablets and bask in the sunshine.

It’s just around the corner. I can feel it.

Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli.
Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli.

Broccoli with pasta is traditional to the south of Italy. This light, simple dish is bright enough to celebrate the imminent arrival of sunshine and filling enough to stave off the last of the winter blues, and it always makes me think of the outdoors and lazy days full of wine and laughter. I love the juicy burst of fresh tomatoes and the crunchy zing of parsley, combined with the dense bite of pasta and the gentle heat of garlic and chilli.

For me, this is the perfect spring supper.

Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli
250g short pasta
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
5 cloves garlic, diced
½ teaspoon Chiu Chow chilli oil (you can use chilli flakes)
3-4 sprigs parsley, chopped
10 cherry or baby plum tomatoes

Cook the pasta in salted water until firm but not hard.

Three minutes before the pasta finishes, add the broccoli to the pot.

Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta and broccoli.

In a frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic in some oil and heat for around 30 seconds, taking care not to let it burn.

Add the chilli and fry for another 15 seconds, then add half the reserved liquid to the frypan. Turn the heat up so it bubbles.

Add the pasta/broccoli and heat through. If it becomes too dry, add more of the cooking liquid so it forms a creamy sauce.

Top with parsley and serve with cherry tomatoes.

not tabouleh

THIS IS NOT TABOULEH.

I’ve got to say that before all my Lebanese friends come after me, pelting me with falafels (which I maybe wouldn’t mind as much as I should). Real tabouleh is made with parsley, bulgur wheat, lemon juice, spring onion and mint. Calling this tabouleh would be like saying sushi is Chinese because it’s made with rice. Big no-no.

But as potentially culturally offensive as this little salad is, the ingredients were what I had in the fridge when I came home at about 8pm after a day of hardcore shopping and I certainly was not about to traipse out to get anything else. I very nearly reached for the pasta and sauce, but I didn’t, and I’m glad. This dish tastes wonderful – zingy and fresh and healthy – so I’m going to post it here for you to enjoy under the proviso that you all understand that calling it tabouleh would be a mistake, a misrepresentation, an egregious error.

The Not-Tabouleh Salad
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Two tomatoes, finely chopped
Quarter of a red onion, very finely chopped
3 tbsp of couscous
Juice of one lime
Olive oil

Parsley is wonderfully springy and robust, but the key is to get it as dry as humanly possible before chopping it, otherwise it ends up in a soggy mess. You can just use paper towels to pat the leaves after you’ve washed it. I know people who use a salad spinner to get it really dry before chopping it, which is great but a little Mission Impossible for the small kitchen.

When chopping parsley, grab the stalks and chop from the leaves down. Get it right the first time because the ‘running the knife through again’ technique that I often use to make things are properly chopped doesn’t really fly with parsley – you can end up bruising the leaves and they get soggy. In any case, don’t fret if there are one or two leaves sticking out at the end. Make sure you’ve chopped enough that the parsley salad is really about the parsley, not the couscous.

Combine the parsley, couscous, tomato and onion (I’m not wild about raw onion, so I only used a quarter, but use your judgement). I don’t like lashings of olive oil dripping everywhere so I used just the tiniest drizzle and then squeezed the lime juice over. Mix well and serve by itself, or with romaine lettuce leaves.

I may have also helped myself to the world’s largest scoop of hummus. Why not?