Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, an almost unlimited variety… yet many people only enjoy a few of those varieties, sticking to the familiar or maybe some favorites. When I was growing up, the pasta we ate was either spaghetti, rigatoni or elbows, with an occasional foray into fettuccine (only with Alfredo); rotini (tri-color for pasta salad) or gnocchi (which I only ate at Lista’s). And there were a few cheese filled pastas like ravioli or manicotti which were also featured on the Lista’s menu. But generally, in our house, the pasta repertoire was relatively limited.
In the 70’s I became aware that ziti was kind of a “thing” and lots of people were making baked ziti dishes for family gatherings and potluck suppers… and it was forever seen on any wedding buffet in the Rochester area.
Ziti by itself is somewhat lackluster — smooth and hollow — the dull nephew in the pasta family. I always thought of it as a poor substitute for the more robust rigatoni I was used to. Ziti was always at its best when pared with a savory sauce, and the richness of meat or cheese. So for many the popular Baked Ziti combination of pasta and meat sauce topped with mozzarella was the prevalent choice.
At some point, my Dad started cooking a “new” ziti dish made with broccoli, olive oil and garlic, which was a real departure from our typical fare of red sauce, meat, and mozzarella… and using luxurious olive oil and aromatic garlic made the dish more exotic and romantic than the standard stuff. This simple dish soon became one of Dad’s personal favorites and he made it regularly at home; and when “vegetarian” menu options became necessary in the late 70’s (thanks to Mollie Katzen and Moosewood) the dish was often served at Lista’s. Even though Dad’s recipe only has a few ingredients; is pretty unsophisticated, and easy to prepare — it is still a tasty and satisfying meal.
Vinnie Lista’s Ziti & Broccoli
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 15 min
1 lb. Ziti Pasta — cooked al dente
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
3-4 cups Fresh Broccoli Florets (about 2 med heads)
Salt and Black Pepper – to taste
1/2 cup Pasta Cooking Water or Vegetable Broth – as needed
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese — as needed
1. In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta per package instructions until “al dente” about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking water. Drain pasta in colander and set aside.
2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over medium heat until fragrant.
3. Add the broccoli florets to the pan. Toss the broccoli to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper and saute over medium heat until the broccoli is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Turn the heat up to med-high and deglaze the pan with the cooking water or broth, stirring up any browned bits.
5. Add in the cooked pasta and gently toss until everything is heated through.
6. Spoon into plates or pasta bowls and top with a generous amount of grated Pecorino Romano cheese before serving.
There you have it, Vinnie Lista’s Ziti & Broccoli. This is a super simple but really delicious meatless meal for your family, and a nice change of pace from a red sauce. It is easy to double or triple the recipe for a large gathering. For a more upscale dish add some sliced mushrooms and red bell pepper with the broccoli and use some white wine to deglaze the pan. If you prefer something with more substance try adding sliced cooked chicken breast or cooked shrimp when you add the pasta. I hope you enjoy it.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”