Another of this recipe's charms is its flexibility. I can swap in vegetable broth for chicken broth, spaghetti for the angel hair pasta, and any other grated hard cheese for the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sometimes I'll even lose the broccoli in favor of roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
But what makes the dish so popular in my house is its comfort factor. I serve it soupy, so you can slurp the chicken broth along with the strands of pasta. I also make sure there's some crusty bread within easy reach, which helps to mop up the broth not captured with a spoon.
In the original version of this recipe (I've been making it for years), I sauteed the broccoli in olive oil over very high heat until it was quite brown around the edges. The problem with this method is that the broccoli quickly soaked up all the olive oil and I always ended up having to add quite a bit more. I switched to oven-roasting it, which helps to decrease the amount of olive oil necessary. It also requires very little baby-sitting.
This dish is so economical it's almost ecological. I use all of the broccoli, not just the florets. For years I used to trash the stems, but the stems are also plenty edible. Just peel off the skin, cut them up, and you're ready.Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 large head broccoli (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 pound whole-wheat capellini pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Position one of the racks in the top third of the oven.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Cut the broccoli, including the stems, into 2-inch pieces. Peel any thick stem pieces to remove the thick skin.
On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the broccoli in a single layer. Drizzle with the oil, then sprinkle with salt to taste and toss well. Place on the top oven rack and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is crisp tender and slightly brown at the edges. Transfer the broccoli to a large skillet, add the pepper flakes and the chicken broth, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
When the water in the large pot comes to a boil, add a hefty pinch of salt and the pasta. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is limp but not quite cooked through. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the broccoli pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt to taste. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and serve with crusty bread.
Per serving: 470 calories; 160 calories from fat (34 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 25 g protein; and 870 mg sodium.