Double take: a twice-cooked broccoli recipe direct from Rome (2024)

For some time, the word ripassare made me think only of Italian verbs. Or, rather, my struggle with them. Ripassare means re-pass, go over again – as in: dovete ripassare questo verbo (you must go over this verb again) – something we were told repeatedly by our kindly, if weary, teacher at the language school I attended when I first came to Rome.

I spent a lot of time re-passing verbs, often chanting them like a Benedictine monk, often while walking. However, when it came to using them, I was mostly flummoxed, unable to extract the verb I needed from the chant. It was impossible not to be reminded of my school French report aged 13, which said something along the lines of: very enthusiastic, but struggling.

I needed time, of course. Years actually, and context, which was often found at the table or in the kitchen. The first time I heard a waiter say “broccoli ripassati in padella”, a penny dropped. I understood both the word and the tense. Broccoli repassed, cooked twice, first by boiling, then in the frying pan. Then I tasted what I had ordered; broccoli so tender it was creamy, glistening with olive oil, garlic and enough chilli to give heat, but not a blaze. It was soft, lively and delicious. We also shared a plate of cicoria ripassata, a glistening tangle of the bitter greens so beloved of the Romans, but more about that another week.

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Broccoli ripassati is hardly a recipe – more a technique, which, although simple, requires a bit of attention. First, forgive me for stating the obvious: in choosing the broccoli, it should be bright, with a tight juicy look. If it is limp, with the sort of suffering look I excel at, buy something else. At this time of year, the most familiar broccoli, calabrese, with its fleshy, tree-like stem and beautiful bluish green colour is still going strong. Alongside it, the first of this season’s lime-green romanesco with its extraordinary fractal buds. Both calabrese and romanesco work well for broccoli ripassati. In January, the delightful English purple sprouting broccoli will too.

Once trimmed, the florets need to be boiled in well-salted water until tender: save squeaks for another recipe and al dente for the pasta. Extra virgin olive oil is important, it should be of good flavour, and you should use a generous amount of it. Warm the oil slowly and patiently over a low flame, so the flavour of the garlic and the chilli really have a chance to infuse the oil. The scent will curl up seductively. You could also melt an anchovy or three into the mix. Important, too, is the broccoli cooking water (and later the pasta cooking water) , a little of which is carried into the vegetable pan where it emulsifies with the oil and contributes to the creaminess of the final dish.

It is this soft creaminess that makes broccoli ripasatti such a good companion for pasta, a dish that appeals to almost everyone – even those who claim to dislike broccoli. Pasta and broccoli can be topped with a spoonful of ricotta, some anchovy breadcrumbs, or a handful of olives and capers. Romans usually serve broccoli ripassati as a con torno (side dish) with meat – especially sausages – but it is quite delicious enough to eat on its own. I also like it piled on garlic‑rubbed toast, possibly topped with a fried egg.

Double take: a twice-cooked broccoli recipe direct from Rome (1)

Broccoli ripassati with olive oil, garlic and chilli

Serves 4
1kg broccoli (around 2 heads of calabrese or 1 romanesco)
2 garlic cloves
1 dried red chilli
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
Salt and black pepper

To serve
500g short pasta, penne, casarecce, fusilli, orecchiette, cavatelli, or grilled sausages, fried eggs, garlic rubbed toast

1 Split the broccoli into medium florets. Pare away the tough skin from the stalk and cut it into thick strips. If the broccoli has leaves, chop them roughly. Wash the broccoli. Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a fast boil, add the broccoli and cook until they can easily be pierced by a fork. It should take around 5–7 minutes, depending on the broccoli’s age and freshness.

2 Meanwhile, prepare the garlic. If you like a mild flavour, peel it and squash it gently with the back of a knife, so it splits, but remains whole. If you want a stronger flavour, peel and finely dice the garlic. Finely chop the chilli and seeds. In a large frying pan, over a low flame, warm the olive oil and allow the garlic and chilli to fry very gently for a few minutes – do not let it burn or it will be bitter. You can remove the whole garlic at this point.

3 Use a slotted spoon to lift the broccoli from the water into the frying pan, don’t worry about the excess water, it is helpful. Keep the water if you are cooking pasta. Raise the flame to medium-low and move the broccoli around the pan so each piece is well-coated with oil, add a pinch of salt, then allow the broccoli to stew for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, during which time it will break up, taking on an almost creamy aspect.

4 Bring the broccoli cooking water back to a fast boil, add the pasta and set a timer. Once the pasta is al dente, use the slotted spoon to lift it into the frying pan, again the clinging water is helpful, mix well over a low heat for about 30 seconds, add a grind of black pepper, a swirl of olive oil. Serve straight from the pan or with sausages, piled on garlic-rubbed toast or topped with a fried egg.

Double take: a twice-cooked broccoli recipe direct from Rome (2024)
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