Romanesco broccoli pasta soup; recipe from Rome.
Minestra di pasta e broccoli romani.
This Romanesco broccoli pasta soup had me at the first spoonful! It is tasty and warming and so perfect for the never-ending winter we are experiencing at the moment in Northern Italy! Once again Italian cuisine shows it’s mastery in taking simple seasonal ingredients and turning them into a dish you just can’t get enough of! I confess I had 2 bowls one after the other and would have had more, had there been room in my tummy!
This recipe comes from Lazio, particularly Rome where traditionally it includes skate. This is a fish that’s not so easy to find here in Veneto, so I made it without which many people do. However the original recipe dates back to the times when Friday was a day of fasting. In poorer households, housewives would make a soup with the week’s leftover dried pasta (often a mix of different kinds) and skate, which was a actually a cheap and unappreciated fish. I have read that Romanesco broccoli was added to the soup to give it more taste!
Romanesco broccoli, also known as Roman cauliflower, has actually been grown in Italy since the 16th century. So it’s not, as some people think, a cross between a cauliflower and broccoli. The fabulous bright chartreuse colour and baroque ‘design’ described as a natural self-similar fractal make this member of the brassica family a really beautiful vegetable. What is a self-similar fractal you may ask! In simple layman’s terms, it’s the same pattern repeated over and over again in different sizes in something that each part looks the same as the whole object. You can read more on fractals in Wikipedia but in short Romanesco broccoli is a natural work of art!
However, Romanesco broccoli isn’t just good looking. It has a delicious slightly nutty and delicate flavour and tastes a bit like something between cauliflower and broccoli. This also means it is great in both cauliflower and broccoli recipes. Here in Italy, Romanesco broccoli is served as a side dish with main courses or eaten with pasta or made into soup; or, as in this recipe for Romanesco broccoli pasta soup, used in soup with pasta together.
Nowadays the pasta used in this soup is either broken up spaghetti or soup pasta such as ditalini, which is what I used. However, you can use any small pasta. In the days when this soup was traditional Friday fare, pasta was often sold loose, not in packets, and the leftovers were used in soups like in this recipe. Today pasta is sold in packets, but most Italian pasta makers also sell packets of mixed pasta (pasta mista) which is popular for soups.
Other ingredients for Romanesco broccoli pasta soup.
Apart from the pasta and the Romanesco broccoli, this recipe has only a few other ingredients. There are slightly different versions of this soup, as there are with many old Italian recipes. Generally when made with skate this soup also includes carrot, celery and onion which are used with the skate to make a broth first. In this much simpler version, the only other ingredients are potato, anchovies, fresh chili pepper, garlic and tomatoes. The pasta can be cooked in the soup or separately. I cooked it in the soup which I think also makes it slightly thicker because of the starch from the pasta.
If you have never eaten this unusual vegetable, then this Romanesco broccoli pasta soup is a great introduction to it. Although another great way to eat it is raw as a crudité. It makes for a great conversation starter as most guests are unlikely to have eaten it before! Then you can show off your knowledge and explain fractals to them!
(to see the recipe, scroll down and click 2)