I can’t say I ever ate pasta of any kind with Broccoli Pesto when I lived in Italy. Food was either cooked by me in the kitchen at ” Villa Torre de Gataia ” near the Piazza Michelangelo, or it was eaten at the Vecchia Firenze. This restaurant is one of Florence’s oldest and the scene of many a group dinner. This was one of the places we took our tourists for their local dinner experience.
Of course living illegally while cooking for hundreds of people a week can be a bit of a problem, because all those tourists in big colourful buses driving around the tiny city streets can draw the attention of the Carabinieri (police)
The Villa we lived in had two floors of sleeping quarters, mostly dormitory style and a huge dining room and bar area with a kitchen in the lower basement. There were passage ways and storage running off the kitchen down in the basement but we never ventured there. A pool and BBQ area, encouraged us to spend many hours entertaining ourselves and the frequent Italian visitors, attracted to this crazy place full of Australian and New Zealand travellers We worked and we lived on the hill in the Villa overlooking the Arno river, and I can not say it was terribly hard. I had a budget and a van to go shopping and we got the job of feeding and entertaining 150 people a day done, between all the partying. Unfortunately none of us had work permits and this did cause the occasional problem.
Late one evening we took a phone call from a friend who’s father was in the Carabinieri. They had been advised to conduct a raid on our Villa to make sure that everything was legal. Rather than answer any questions about what we were doing and how long we had been living there with no help from any Italian staff, we decided to empty all of our evidence out of the building, because this was easier for us and the Carabinieri. Typically, it’s Italy we weren’t really expected to comply, just pretend to comply. This was a big operation and next morning we had asked the 100 guests to pack their bags and take them with them onto the buses, where a special day of touring to Sienna had been planned, (to keep them out and about) instead of having a free day. We packed everything away into the passageways behind the kitchen, personal belongings, office, bar and kitchen….. a huge job, that we took very seriously. After 6 months living here, and hundreds of tourists a week this was an incredibly daunting task. Cleaning as we went, we left with minutes to spare. We retired to the Piazza Michelangelo, to drink Frappes and wait. The Carabinieri inspected, and without looking too carefully they decided there was nothing untoward going on.
After languishing in the sun for several hours we returned to the Villa where, everything had to be unpacked. Dinner had to be cooked for the 100 people already staying, and the arriving bus of 50, had to be greeted and taken out to Vecchia Firenze. Dinner was always 3 courses, so there was a lot of work to do, to get that dinner cooked. I can tell you that we slept very well that night. There was no trips to Space Electronique the Discoteque and no late night at the Villa bar. Our brush with the law was now only history, the Carabinieri were happy that they could report nothing happening, and we all went about our business, thank you.
When I have no time at home, I know that pasta will always sooth the dinner woes. It wouldn’t matter to me if the Carabinieri were threatening to arrest me, I would still find a way to include the dreaded vegetable in this pasta without alerting the vege- phobic.
- 500 gm Spaghettini (or your favourite pasta)(1 lb)
- 1 onion ( fine dice)
- 1 clove of garlic ( crushed
- 300 gm broccoli including stem finely chopped (10oz)
- 3 or 4 button mushrooms sliced fine (not dark field mushrooms)
- 2 Table spoons olive oil
- 50 ml Chicken stock/ broth
- 100 ml Tablespoons of cream
- 100 ml pasta water
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
- 50 gm grated parmesan (1.8 oz) and a bit extra for flavouring
- juice of ½ lemon
- ½ cup of parsley
- 1 small clove garlic
- 50 gm pinenuts
- 125 ml olive oil for adding to the pesto
- Put a well salted pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
- Heat another wide bottomed pot and add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped onion and garlic. Soften the onion then add the chopped broccoli and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and toss without colouring till heated through.
- Add the stock and put the lid on and let the vegetables cook till just soft. Take off the heat and cool.
- Put the broccolli in a food processor with the parsley, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, ½ the lemon juice and zest and ½ of the olive oil. Blitz this mixture to break up a little.
- This mixture doesn't need to be a puree so pulse it to keep texture.
- Put the pesto into skillet or frypan and add the pasta water and cream. Add the pesto and more lemon juice and salt and pepper.extra seasoning. Drain the pasta and add to the pesto. Mix well with tongs.
- Serve the pasta with extra parmesan Add more whole pinenuts if you want a crunchy texture