The origins of broccoli and pasta are said to come from the Puglia, in the south of Italy and it is a great example of how an everyday vegetable, with the assistance of some big flavours and plenty of olive oil, can be transformed. Chilli and Basil Pesto works perfectly with this dish, adding peppery heat and herby aromatics. Traditionally orecchiette would be used, but the long, twisted edges of strozzapreti (or priest strangler, as it translates to) make a fine job of holding on to the coating and are also ideal for using with pesto.
Place a large pan of well salted water (not quite like sea water, but noticeably salty) on a high heat, cover and bring to the boil.
Use a peeler to peel the tough skin from the base of the head of broccoli. Cut the head in half, cutting through the stalk towards the outside. Cut each half into half again so the head is quartered and then cut the stalk into 1 cm slices. Cut the rest of the broccoli into large chunks; if you cut everything then it can become too waterlogged when blanched.
When the water is boiling, add the stalk pieces and blanch for 2 minutes. Now add the remaining broccoli and blanch for 3 minutes. The stalk pieces should have softened, and the outer parts should be cooked but not completely mushy. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the water and allow to drain in a colander.
Add the pasta to the blanching water and stir to separate. Bring up to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. The pasta will need about 10 minutes to cook.
Place a large pan on a medium heat, add around 70ml olive oil, then finely slice the garlic and add to the pan. Watch the garlic as it slowly begins to sizzle and when it turns a pale golden colour add the broccoli the pan. Turn the heat up, but not quite on full blast, so that the broccoli begins to fry. The idea now is to really cook the broccoli till it becomes almost like a paste, and in doing so it begins to caramelise and take on a much richer flavour to plain boiled brassica.
As the broccoli cooks, use the back of a wooden spoon or a fork to crush the stalks down – the outer green parts will break down on their own. Add more oil if the pan looks a bit dry as the olive oil is a main component in transforming the broccoli into something delicious that is going to coat the pasta.
Once the broccoli has really broken down, turn the heat to low, add the pesto, the lemon zest and stir through. Drain the pasta into a colander and add to the broccoli – its fine if it is still a bit wet as this will help emulsify the oil. Turn the pasta over in the pan to coat. You may well need to add a further splash of water and another good glug of oil to loosen things up, so the pasta has is nicely coated and there is some movement in the pan. Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding more lemon zest if you prefer or more pesto if you would like bit more heat.
Divide between bowls or plates then grate the parmesan over the top.