Sometimes, when I walk into our apartment building, I can smell someone else’s broccoli cooking. This does not bode well for my own appetite. Broccoli, let’s not forget, is cruciferous, and cooking the vegetable can evoke cabbage in the least flattering way. But the scent of other people’s broccoli–as well as other people’s delicious, delicious bacon–is the price of crowded city living, the indignity we suffer to dwell on a cute corner in a beloved neighborhood in everyone’s favorite borough.
Ever since I read this no-nonsense tip from Reading My Tea Leaves, I’ve worried less about preventing pervasive food scents, for my neighbors or myself. (Alex does have a system of opening windows and plugging in fans for when I’m going to get the kitchen really smoky.) Cook something a little stinky, then cook something wonderful. Caramelize onions (I despise their after-smell), then bake a batch of granola (the finest way to make an apartment smell like home).
The preparation for this pasta starts with roasting broccoli. It’s not that strong a smell–I don’t want to turn you off. But then right after you take the broccoli out of the oven, you brown butter on the stove. And I always want the scent of brown butter, nutty and rich, to linger. Mixed together with spaghetti, these few fragrant ingredients become a rich, homey weeknight dinner that leaves the place smelling great.
In my opinion, broccoli begs to be cooked a while past that moment when the florets turns bright emerald green and most recipes tell you to stop cooking. When the beautiful emerald pales and the stems of the broccoli begin to wilt, when you could turn the cooked florets into mashed cooked florets with the prick of a fork, that’s when I think broccoli tastes the best. I’ll sometimes mix that “overcooked” broccoli with garlic, olive oil, and pasta–the comfort dish that inspired this recipe. Roasting the broccoli is a more dignified way of getting the vegetable to that soft, sweet spot, and the browned edges of the baked broccoli pair really well with the decadent brown butter.
Brown Butter Broccoli Spaghetti
In terms of timing: you’ll want to start melting your butter over low heat about 15 minutes before you the pasta is finished cooking. If your butter browns faster, pour it out of the pan and into a small ramekin to stop the cooking. Then, when the pasta is ready, you can put it back into the frying pan.
4 cups broccoli florets (from one medium head), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for cutting the pasta
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, from about half a roll or a couple small slices of baguette
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound thin spaghetti or other long thin pasta
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Toss the broccoli florets with the olive oil and salt and spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the broccoli for 25 minutes, until brown around the edges.
While the broccoli is cooking, toss the breadcrumbs with a drizzle of olive oil, spread on a small baking sheet, and bake for about 6 minutes.
Set the breadcrumbs and broccoli aside.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Salt it well, I’m talking at least 3 tablespoons.
Add butter to a heavy frying pan large enough to (eventually) fit the pasta, and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter separates into liquids (clear) and solids (white), and the solids start to toast. You’ll see the white turning brown. Turn the heat all the way down and cook until the butter smells nutty and fragrant. Watch it carefully so as not to burn.
Add 1/4 cup pasta cooking water to the butter. It will sizzle! Then add the broccoli and stir well. Scoop the pasta straight into the pan with the butter and broccoli from the pot. Stir to integrate, adding more water by the tablespoon to make sure the pasta is coated. Since the breadcrumbs will absorb some moisture, be generous with the water. Taste for salt, then scoop into two bowls. Top each with half the breadcrumbs.