I wish you were here in Los Angeles last weekend. Warm breezes blew gently across a cloudless electric blue sky, and there was a palpable exuberance in the air. It was the perfect time to welcome a certain well-seasoned New Yorker, one with a mega presence and a delicious agenda.
Mario Batali, proprietor of 19 restaurants, Iron Chef, author of eight cookbooks and television superstar, came to town. On tour to promote his latest book, Molto Batali, Mario breezed into our boardwalk café, Coast, for a sold-out lunch that included samples of several recipes, accompanied by wines from his Bastianich label.
It was a meal to remember, not as much for the food, which was tasty indeed, but for the outsized personality that jumped out of each dish. Mario is larger than life, and his spirit seasons everything he does, onscreen and off.
I skipped home like a giddy schoolgirl with my autographed cookbook, already thinking about which recipes I would try for dinner. The photo of Trenette with Jalapeño Pesto was so inviting, I decided to give it a spin. Unfortunately, the fiery chiles and zealous quantity of olive oil added a bit too much gusto for my family’s tastes.
But I was so inspired by Mario’s playfulness, I started over from scratch, reinterpreting his recipe with more subdued broccoli in place of the chiles. In honor of Mario, I sprinkled some lively lemon zest and chile flakes to garnish. And that’s when I realized, sometimes the delight you take in cooking is what makes the cooking delightful.
1 bunch (about 1 pound) broccoli (including the stems), chopped roughly
1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds
1/2 small red onion, chopped roughly
1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
1/4 – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (16-ounce) package whole grain spaghetti (This is my favorite: Felicetti Kamut Spaghetti.)
Grated lemon zest and chile flakes to taste, for garnish (optional)
1. Bring a stockpot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook until tender but still crisp. Using a slotted spoon, fish out the broccoli and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry well.
2. Make the Broccoli Pesto: Place the broccoli, almonds, onion, cheese, and olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to desired doneness. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking water, and toss with the pesto. Add a bit of the cooking water as needed to incorporate the pesto. Sprinkle with lemon zest and chile flakes to taste if desired. Serve immediately, with additional cheese on the side.
Photo credit: Whole Living