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Spring food and Smashed Broccoli Penne

The soups and porridge that dominated my winter are long gone, replaced by cravings for fresh strawberries, crunchy vegetables, greens, and lighter food in general.  Salads reign supreme.

I’m back to my warm weather emergency-dinner staple, the I’m-so-hungry-I-can’t-cook meal of pre-cooked brown rice, a can of tuna, and roughly chopped cucumber, tomato and olives.  I’m snacking on radishes and goats cheese at work, thinking about replenishing my sunscreen supply, swapping red wine for gin and tonic, and baring my pasty legs to the sun.  Right now the temperature is perfect – if only it would stay like this!  Predictions are for a blistering summer, and I’m feeling a little apprehensive.

Three weeks ago we took a ferry over to Coochiemudlo Island to spend the day wandering the quiet roads and beaches.  We had packed a picnic, but all I wanted for lunch was the container full with peppery rocket, a salty-oily white wine vinaigrette shaken in a screw top jar, and a couple of hard-boiled eggs.  No matter that the wind whipped tendrils of rocket about the beach and that I got a touch of sand on my egg; I easily entered that zen-like state of food bliss, where mastication consumed all concentration, apart from the careful arrangement of next mouthful on fork.  We are hardly talking gourmet ingredients here, which is what makes this interesting.  Either a) I am setting my standards for bliss far too low, b) that the Italians were right all along, and that simple, when fresh and high quality, is always best, or perhaps c) that it didn’t really matter what I ate, that the pretty setting and healthy appetite generated by a long walk in brisk sea breezes would have made almost anything taste wonderful.

I’m back into a regular yoga practice for the first time in ages.  I always forget how much better I feel when I’m doing two or three challenging classes a week.  Besides the classes at my gym, I’ve also started attending the free Sunday morning sessions at the local Lululemon store on James St.  Getting out of bed at 7am on a Sunday morning requires an edge of discipline, but the walk in the warm sun, an inspiring yoga class taught by a different teacher every week, and stopping by the Merlo coffee hatch for a piccolo on the way home is reward in plenty.  The city is full of stunning Jacaranda trees in full flower, which are worth a pause on the way.

While walking to class on the Sunday before last I found myself thinking about what to have for lunch later.  Thoughts of light, green, spring-like food played at the edges of my consciousness, and although I did my best to concentrate on the class, visions of broccoli, mint and pasta interrupted my asanas.  Straight after class I went to James St Market and selected ingredients, deciding by this time that I also needed green edamame beans.  Once home I threw together this simple pasta dish, and the result was perfect – the flavours are fresh and clean, the edamame are substantial and chewy, and the smashed broccoli provides moisture and that holier-than-thou goodness that is unique to such superfoods.  Eating it on my breezy balcony, I positively ached with wholesomeness. Daffodils spontaneously sprang from the pavement and out of the corner of my eye, I almost saw lambs skipping up the street…

As with any dish that I create myself, I never measure anything.  The ingredient quantities given are approximations only – please adjust according to your taste.  Swap peas or broad beans for edamame if you can’t get them, add rocket instead of mint if you wish, and if you want to amplify the flavours, a couple of anchovies fried with the garlic and chilli will inject a background savoury element.

Smashed Broccoli Pasta

1 medium head broccoli (organic if you want to feel really superior)
2 cloves garlic
Pinch dried chilli flakes
1/2-1 cup cooked edamame beans, removed from their pods
Handful of fresh mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 inch square chunk of goat feta (or regular feta)
2 cups penne pasta (I used wholemeal)
Pecorino cheese to grate on top (or parmesan)
Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the broccoli into florets, leaving a couple of inches of stalk attached.  Steam until tender – this is important, we are not after tender-crisp broccoli as this will be too hard to smash, but equally, soft mushiness should be avoided.  Tender in this context means cooked through but still retaining a little bite so that when smashed, the florets will mostly break up while the stalks will remain chunky.  Try starting with 7 minutes of steaming, testing every minute after that until the broccoli is done.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bring water in a large pot to the boil, salt the water well, then cook the penne according to the packet instructions.  Drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, finely slice the garlic and heat in a wide frying pan in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Keep the heat low so the garlic merely sweats for a couple of minutes.  Add the chilli flakes, and then tip in the cooked broccoli.  Toss through the hot oil, then using a potato masher, roughly smash the broccoli florets, taking care to retain some largish chunks.  Tip in the edamame beans, toss through to heat for a minute, then turn off the heat.

Stir through the mint and crumbled goat feta, then tip in the pasta.  Stir together with a sprinkle of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, then pile into a bowl, grate over some pecorino, grind over a little more pepper, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Eat.

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