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May I introduce you to the enormous hunk of crumbly Grana Padano panda-in-crime brought back from his seasonal holidays in Italy?  The perfect Christmas gift, for sure!  Just perfect for a frugal winters fare of root vegetable soups and pasta.  We need the extra carbs in this cold spell, as we’re only getting the wood burner installed next week (that is if access isn’t cut off by the snow), so evenings are typically spent huddled round the Rayburn in the kitchen, mulling home brew and baking potatoes in the ashes.

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The grocers had a boxful of deep green broccoli florets yesterday and though I went in to pick up my usual granary loaf, I couldn’t help buying a couple.  ‘Superfoods’ that these cruciferous veggies are and all, it’d be daft not to.

And now for one of my favourite pasta dishes: Pasta con broccoli.  It does what it says on the tin.  In its simplest form, just six ingredients: pasta, broccoli, garlic, olive oil, nutmeg and Grana, but today we’re going all out and adding a grating of lemon zest, chilli and a couple of anchovies.  Anchovies and broccoli?  It does work!  There isn’t a hint of fishiness, as the fillets dissolve in the olive oil and impart a wonderful savoury depth to the sauce.  Of course, veggies and bona fide anchovy haters can leave them out…

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RECIPE: Pasta con broccoli

Serves a hungry panda pair in a hurry

250g of penne or suchlike chunky pasta

A head of broccoli

2-4 garlic cloves

4 fillets of anchovy (optional)

A finely chopped dried chilli

A grating of lemon zest

A grating of nutmeg

A splash of white wine

A glug of extra virgin olive oil

A grating of Grana Padano

A meagre sprinkling of salt and a grinding of pepper

INSTRUCTIONS: Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Add the broccoli head to the boiling water having trimmed off the excess stem (you can peel and use this in soups or slice thinly and stir fry with soy and garlic).  Heat the olive oil in the pan and add the anchovy fillets and garlic.  You can add the fillets whole as they dissolve in the oil (if salted rinse and pat dry, I just use tinned), taking care not to let garlic brown.  The broccoli should be barely cooked after 3-4 minutes when it is time to remove the florets with a slotted spoon. 

Now you can add the pasta to the salty boiling water.  Chop the florets into small chunks and add to the pan with the chilli and lemon zest.  Fry for a couple more minutes and add a splash of white wine or pasta cooking water.  The pasta should be al dente by now, so drain and toss with the broccoli.  Add a grating of nutmeg, taste and season.  Scatter over the Grana if using and a drizzle of olive oil, heap onto plates and enjoy.

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