Pasta with Broccoli and Anchovies


When it comes to cooking on a day-to-day basis, there are two real categories of food: the things that you make when you’re up to it, and the things that you make when aren’t.

The later is a special, if unglamorous, group. They are the meals that comfort you when you can’t stand the thought of packaged food, don’t want to go out, and are too broke to order in; when you want something honest and uncomplicated and good. What this means varies from person to person, but never requires dirtying a lot of dishes or spending too much time. You might make salads or fried rice, soup or grilled sandwiches, stir fries or omelettes or pasta.

Every once in a while one of these dishes is nice enough that you’d consider serving it to somebody you might like to impress. When you get a call out of the blue from an attractive acquaintance inquiring about dinner at 6:30 in the evening, it’s nice to have the something in the house that will do.

This has been one of my most foolproof standbys. Except for vegans and true vegetarians, it’s almost universally loved. It’s filling and easy and simple and cheap, and except for the carbs, it’s very healthy: oily fish (yes, anchovies) and broccoli are both fantastic for you, and a little olive oil and hard cheese never hurt anybody. In fact, you can even make it with whole-wheat pasta. I have, and none were the wiser.

Pasta with Broccoli and Anchovies

For 4-6 people, depending on voracity.*
(The whole thing will take about half an hour, 45 minutes if you’re deliberate or distracted.)


  • Big pot (for pasta)
  • Collander (pastastaywatergo)
  • Either your biggest saute pan or skillet (if it can hold the whole box of pasta plus broccoli or a smaller one. That’s fine too.
  • A wooden spoon or spatula or stirring implement of your choice
  • A micro-plane or other grater
  • A sharp knife and a cutting board
  • A mug with a handle
  • All that various serving stuff. Or just a fork, I guess.
  • Ingredients

  • A head or two of broccoli**
  • A pound of farfalle or other short pasta
  • Anchovies – packed in olive oil, not salt or vinegar. Flat pack, not rolled.
  • Garlic – 3 to 5 cloves
  • Crushed red pepper flake
  • Hard Italian cheese… maybe 2 ounces? 1-2 cups once it’s grated.***
  • Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt and pepper (fresh please)
  • Procedure

    1. Fill your pot most of the way up with water, cover it and set it over high heat to boil.
    2. While the water boils, cut up your broccoli. Cut off the florets into pieces of about the same size; keep them about an inch and a half long, if you can. When all the florets are cut off, use your knife or a vegetable peeler to get the skin and leftover branches off the broccoli stalks, cut off the woody end slice them diagonally into pieces about half an inch thick.
    3. Set your broccoli aside and get to work on the garlic and anchovies. You want 5 or so anchovy fillets and an equal amount of garlic (or, I do. But I like this pasta extremely flavorful – if you’re timid, you can go with less). Smash the whole garlic cloves with the side of your knife; this loosens the skin so you can pull it off. Pile up the garlic and anchovy fillets and chop them a lot, until what you have resembles a brownish paste with specks of garlic in it. I promise, this is will be delicious.
    4. Grate your cheese. If you have a friend around, this is the perfect task to outsource. I grate my own cheese approximately 3% of the times I need cheese grated. You will have to judge by eye what looks like enough; figure on two or three handfuls to get mixed in, plus some extra for sprinkling.
    5. By now your pasta water will be nearing the boil. On another burner, heat several big glugs of olive oil (1/4 cup-ish, 3-4 tablespoons) in whatever skillet you’re using, over a low-ish medium flame.****
    6. When the pasta water is at a rolling boil, add a handful of salt (Yes, I mean it. A handful.) to the water and dump in your pasta. The first time you make this recipe, take a gander at how long the package says the pasta should cook, and set a timer for T-4 minutes. So if the pasta is supposed to cook for 12 minutes, set yourself a timer for 8. Once you’ve done it a few times, it’ll become natural. Give the pasta few good stirs as it cooks.
    7. When the oil in the skillet slightly shimmery on top, (probably right after you dump in the pasta) add the garlic-and-anchovy paste, and the crushed red pepper flake. This must be done according to taste. I like one really big pinch or two sort of smaller ones – maybe 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon? If you like it spicier, add more. Cook gently, stirring occasionally. Try not to let the garlic brown (you can turn down the heat a bit if needed).
    8. When the timer goes off, dump the broccoli right into the pot with the pasta and give it a stir. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the broccoli tender but (with any luck) not falling apart.
    9. Using your mug, scoop out a big (1/2 cup) of pasta-cooking water from the pot and set aside. Set your colander in the sink and drain the pasta and broccoli. If you’ve got the huge pan, dump the colander right in there with the garlic and anchovies. If not, put it right back into the pot it cooked in and dump the garlic and anchovies and oil on top of that.
    10. Add the grated cheesein small handfulls, stirring vigorously the whole time. Add some of the reserved pasta water too, so that instead of being dry, the pasta has a sort of glistening, lightly sauced look. Remember to save some of the cheese for sprinkling, and serve (with wine, or beer or cider or water). If you’re alone, all you need is a fork.

    We have consumed.

    * This dish also scales beautifully. Half a pound of pasta and a smaller head of broccoli, lighter on the anchovy and garlic, and the exact same procedure feeds two. If you’ve got big enough pots and pans, you can double it up and feed 8. Simple.

    ** You want it as green as you can find it, with tight little bundles of florets. Nothing wobbly or soft or yellow. Also, check out the stem and see if it’s hard and woody – that’s a bad sign.

    *** I like Pecorino a lot, but I’ve used Asiago and Piave, and of course good old Parmesan. Get something nice, though – a whole piece of cheese, and not one that comes in printed shrink wrap, one that was recently cut off a big wheel. Also, remember that not all graters are the same; micro-plane graters create light, fluffy piles. If you’re using something with bigger holes, you won’t need as big a volume of grated cheese.

    **** God help you if you’re using an electric stove. I recommend picking up the pan a lot to regulate heat. Or moving to a place with a gas stove.

    The sentiments expressed in this post were earlier expressed by the wonderful cook and author Laurie Colwin. Read her books!


    I don’t remember anymore how old I was,
    those summers I went every morning.
    I do remember standing ankle deep in river
    looking at the stones which all seemed precious in the sun,
    thinking nothing could ever be so beautiful.

    Nothing ever has been.

    I can’t tell you why the dirt is nice dirt,
    why I can’t keep my shoes on, would not dare to try.

    I tried to explain. I don’t think I succeeded,
    but I think he understood. Laughed at me a little.
    Always has laughed at me, just a little.

    (And pointed out where there were fewer rocks.
    I knew already. I did not go.)

    There are black raspberries if you know where to look.
    It’s nice to eat them and even nicer to leave some
    for the next person
    who knows where to look.

    The field is full of dragon flies or fireflies
    Sunlight or moonlight or cloudy glow-light
    from the big hospital and the houses beyond the trees.

    You can call it nostalgia if you want.
    I prefer to call it coming home.

    Summer Love

    Bright yellow backhoe works hard all day long
    and shuts down, exhausted, at night.

    Lamppost leans over her, protective and calm,
    he worries, but can’t do too much.

    There are weeds in the lot, but the sunsets are nice,
    in the heat of the hot summer night.

    And bright yellow backhoe, and lamppost, and me,
    love each other, and never quite touch.


    I think she woke to wonder every morning,
    even when she was already a ghost.

    Sat at her typewriter and leaped gracefully over the aching hollowness
    lingered delicately
    (as fruits chilled all day on ice, served up with kirsch)
    on the sweet moments,
    the world quietly disappearing around her.

    Fascists wander through the pages,
    all smiles. Communists and beautiful Jewish girls
    trying to forget and remember the starving pain
    of imprisoned loved ones, being served strange meals
    on old ships
    by old stewards.

    Champagne and caviar and the slow, voluptuous
    always voluptuous, ever so voluptuous
    pleasure of discovering that despite what men tell you,
    you, as a woman, have the right to ask for
    and receive
    just what you want.

    Love, she reminds us,
    without ever telling us,
    is complicated. People move about.
    We hurt one another.
    We break the rules.

    We feed our strange hungers and our healthy ones,
    and the alcohol in our blood and the strong or subtle flavors
    are meant to be enjoyed,
    and we are meant to enjoy each other,
    and we are meant to enjoy ourselves.

    I think that my gratitude would matter to her,
    if she could ever have known
    the things she taught me.

    (For M.F.K. Fisher)