Okay, I know pasta doesn’t really need a cheerleader. In fact, it can sometimes feel overhyped—there’s so much written about pasta that I start to feel as if I’m seeing the same recipes over and over again.
That was top of mind when I was writing my cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day, which has an entire chapter devoted to pasta. I wanted to include cheap and easy pasta dinners in the book, but I didn’t want anything that was boring. That meant I had to take some basic ingredients and turn them on their head just a little bit. Which is how this dish got its melted broccoli.
What does melting your broccoli mean, exactly? Rather than appearing as broccoli florets haphazardly scattered throughout your pasta bowl waiting to be speared separately, melted broccoli is cooked down and transformed into an extra-chunky, extra-savory sauce that hugs each noodle. Think of it as a true marriage of vegetable and pasta—rather than an awkward Zoom date that never really takes off.
You don’t just melt the broccoli on its own; anchovies and capers join the party too. The anchovies disintegrate when they hit the hot olive-oil-and-garlic-laden skillet, infusing the oil with salt and umami, while the capers lend a pop of briny, snappy tang throughout. All this results in a surprisingly nuanced sauce made with just a few humble ingredients.
That’s also what keeps this pasta affordable. A pound of conventional broccoli hovers around two dollars, and while that quantity usually feeds only four people as a side dish, melting it stretches it to become the star of the main affair. It’s no secret that a box of dried pasta also runs cheap, but what’s interesting to note here is that it’s whole wheat pasta that’s called for. Don’t go rolling your eyes just yet: The pasta’s nutty, earthy flavor may not be the best match for your marinara, but it’s a magical partner for this bold, hearty sauce. And whole wheat pasta is just as inexpensive as regular pasta—but comes with the added benefit of nutrients like fiber, magnesium, and iron.
Perhaps my very favorite economical feature of this recipe, though, is one that’s been saving people money for centuries. It’s pangrattato, which translates to “grated bread.” The toasted breadcrumbs are often called poor man’s Parmesan because that’s what peasants in southern Italy used as a cheese replacement on their pasta when they couldn’t afford the real deal. Here, it’s a finishing touch that not only keeps costs down, but also one that adds crunch and texture to every non-boring bite.Sheela Prakash
Broccoli: $1.79, Whole Wheat Pasta: $1.08, Olive oil: $0.39, Panko: $0.95, Anchovies: $0.90, Capers: $1.72, Garlic: $0.10, Red Pepper: $0.06. Total: $6.99 ($1.74 per serving). For more on how Epicurious prices out recipes, click here.
Use It Up
You’ll have some dried pasta left over in the box after making this meal, which is the perfect excuse to make Pesto Pasta Frittata. You’ll also have anchovies and capers left over. If you bought a tin of oil-packed anchovies, transfer what remains (oil and all) to a small airtight container and refrigerate them to make real-deal dressing for Caesar Salad to pair with your frittata. Your leftover jar of capers will also keep well in the fridge for a bit but it’s a perfect opportunity to make equally budget-friendly Chicken Piccata. Oh, and there are endless ways to use leftover bread crumbs—here are 15.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious