From Florence with Love

Florence stole my heart – or should I say he did – David off course. I have to admit I have a ‘thing’ for marbled statutes, I think it’s the texture, colour and romance of them, so it came to no surprise that I would find Michelangelo’s David stunning. He is a bit more than stunning actually, for starters he is large, much bigger than I imagined, over 5 meters to be exact, secondly it is the position where he is placed in the Galleria dell’Accademia underneath natural light created by a stunning dome, 100% the centre stage. For obvious reasons I am not going to post photos of David as this is a food blog after all and you might be wondering that exact thing.

In the light of above I decided to skip ahead and post yesterdays lunch I made, as we decided to have a easy day after lots and lots of exploring. We are staying on the 6th floor in a neighbourhood in Florence and after nearly 3 weeks in Italy, we are practically Italian, even our clothes are hanging out to dry on our very tiny balcony. It is warm and sticky outside and I am wondering, while zapping ‘mozzies’, how hot Florence must get over summer?

In the recipe to follow, it is all about the anchovies. I will confess that I am not the biggest fan, I know I know, it melts when warm and you can’t even taste the anchovy, but I can. I am normally not one fond of even the slightest ‘hint’ of anchovy, no not even in a slow cooked leg of lamb. Until now! All thanks to a clever and very simple dish of Pici Pasta with Courgette and Anchovy ordered at Ristorante A Casa Tua in Certaldo. It was love at first bite! In the quest to replicate the taste and my need to eat more greens I came up with this recipe. Orecchiette  meaning ‘little ears’ are not native to Tuscany but my options without a pasta machine is limited.

PS: Still dreaming of the fried rabbit and courgette flowers I had at La Vecchia Bettola. This neighbourhood restaurant came recommended by our Italian AirBnB lady and it is that old fashioned kind of Florentine restaurant you’re hoping to find. Unfussy, cozy, cramped, full of good food and wine.

Homemade Orecchiette with Broccoli and  Pecorino Pesto with Chilli and Parsley Crumb

Ingredients

Serves 4

Pasta:

  • 1 cup (250g) OO flour
  • 1 cup (250g) fine semolina
  • 100-140ml very warm water

The water ratio is a bit tricky. Depending on the thickness of you semolina you might need some more.

Pesto:

  • 1 head of broccoli
  • handful of toasted pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove – minced
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon zest
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 60ml very good extra virgin olive oil
  • 160g finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese

Broccoli Concoction – so good!

  • 1/2 broccoli – break of the enough tiny florets to fill a small cup
  • slice the rest of the broccoli into a very fine crumb
  • 2/3 anchovies – minced
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1/2 tspn of chilli flakes or fresh chilli’s

Crumb

  • few slices stale breadcrumbs
  • handful of parsley
  • tspn of chilli flakes
  • very good extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. For the pasta, mix the flours and place on a work surface making a large hole in the middle. Gently pour 100ml of the warm water into the hole. Slowly with two fingers start to stir the water, gently incorporating the flour from the sides till all the mixture is incorporated (adding more warm water as needed) and you have a firm but pliable dough. Serious kneading is required so knead for at least 5 minutes, shape into a disc and wrap. Leave the dough for at least 30minute at room temperature. Remembering that the dough will soften as it relaxes so the initial consistency of the dough is quite important.
  2. To make the pesto, place the broccoli, the pine nuts, garlic, lemon rind, juice, oil and pecorino in a food processor and process until roughly chopped – season to taste and set aside.
  3. Breadcrumbs: Chop all ingredients together with a knife till a rough crumb – if you prefer a smoother texture process in a food processor.
  4. In a small saucepan bring some water to the boil and add the tiny florets and blanch for 3/4 minutes remove and refresh in cold water -set aside.
  5. Back to the dough, roll a golfball-size chunk of dough into a log and slice it into thin rounds. Keep the rest of the dough wrapped so it won’t dry out. Taking the small cut round and with your thumb shape it into your other cupped hand to make a tiny cup or ear. We are not looking for perfection here,  part of orecchiette’s charm is the irregular shapes. All the pasta grannies on YouTube shape these with a knife – I found shaping it by hand easiest.
  6. Fry some oil in pan – add the anchovy, garlic and fine broccoli to the pan and fry on a med/hot heat, till light golden, add the florets to warm through and set aside.
  7. Add the breadcrumb mixture to the pan making sure the heat is still hot – fry till light golden – remove from the pan and set aside
  8. Cook the pasta until al dente.
  9. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid to the pan, add pasta back into the pan and over medium heat, add the broccoli pesto and broccoli mixture and mix well.
  10. To serve, divide pasta into 4 plates, add breadcrumb mixture, extra grated pecorino and drizzle with oil.
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