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Pasta Cooked Like a Risotto

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This gorgeous traditional orecchiette-with-broccoli recipe is a staple on my table. The pasta is cooked with the sauce, a unique process much favored by French chef Alain Ducasse.

I have been cooking this lovely traditional Italian recipe for years. The pasta is put uncooked in the sauce and water is added ladle by ladle until the pasta is cooked releases its starches to make a thick sauce. Although the two main ingredients are the same, the result is very different from the traditional Sicilian Pasta Coi Broccoli.

This unique way of cooking pasta is much favored by French top chef Alain Ducasse, who recently launched a special designer pasta pot to cook pasta like risotto. Ducasse says this cooking process came from Ligurian olive pickers who had to carry the water used for cooking. They gathered herbs, mushrooms or snails on the way up to the olive groove and cooked everything in a pot with as little water as they could - just like a risotto.

You don't need Mr Ducasse's pricey pan to enjoy this unique and tasty way of cooking pasta today in your own kitchen - just follow the instructions.

Pasta With Brocoli
Cooked like a risotto
500 gr orecchiette
1 broccoli
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 anchovy fillets
1 chili (chipotle or serrano)
400gr crushed tomatoes
1 glass dry white wine
150 gr pecorino

Try to find orecchiette or other semolina-flour dry pasta. Peel the garlic, chop the onion, crumble the chili and cut the broccoli in bite-size florets.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and crush the garlic into the hot oil and fry until medium brown. Remove it, squeezing the oil back into the pan. Why remove the garlic? I love garlic too, but most of the flavor is now dissolved in the olive oil. The brown garlic remains are discarded because their taste is no longer so attractive - just try and eat some to see for yourself. This process of flavoring the olive oil with garlic and removing it later is one hallmark of good Italian cooking.

Add the chopped onions and fry over medium-high temperature until soft. Increase the temperature and add the chopped anchovy fillets (picture above). Cook for a minute over high heat, then pour a glass of white wine into the pan. A miracle happens - the anchovy fillets will disappear. They dissolve into the wine within a few seconds and are never seen again. This is a culinary legerdemain that never ceases to amaze me. The anchovy contributes to the sauce's come-back-for-more appeal and nobody will guess its presence.

Add the pasta and a bowl of water.

Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt, mix and bring to a boil (photo). Don't over salt - there is already salted anchovy fillets and we'll be adding pecorino.

Now comes the big catch-22, the chicken-and-egg dilemma. When do you put the broccoli in? Should you not add the broccoli before the pasta? The only certainty is that they will finish cooking together. Put the pasta too soon and it will be overcooked. Add the broccoli too late and it will be so hard you'll choke on it. My bought orecchiette need about 20 minutes to cook. I reckon the broccoli florets are done in about 15 minutes. These 5 minutes of waiting between adding the pasta and letting the broccoli join in are very hard on the cook's nerves!

Continue to cook over medium-high heat, adding 1-2 glasses of water at at time. You won't strain the pasta - whatever liquid remaining in the saucepan will be part of the sauce. If you add too much water you will manage to boil off only a certain amount of water before turning everything into a hopelessly overcooked mush. But as practice comes, you don't really need to add the water as gradually as for risotto. I usually start with about 4 glasses water and then add whatever is required.

When both orecchiette and broccoli are cooked, summon your guests to the table, open the wine and grate the pecorino.

Add the pecorino directly in the saucepan to dissolve it and thicken the sauce even more.

The pasta is ready to serve - I apologize for the poor quality of the picture which doesn't do justice to the extraordinary appeal of this homey dish. When the guests have left, don't forget to scrape and eat the bottom of the pan - that's the best part.

This is no gadget recipe demonstrating some funny food physics but rather a truly exceptional dish consecrated by a century-old tradition and France's top chef alike.

Try it at home and let me know! 


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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!


  • #1
  • Comment by Marco G.
Congratulations for the intriguing suggestion. I do have some reservations though. Don't assimilate orecchiette with all other kind of pasta. I believe that if you try this method with penne or fusilli, you will get all but a nice lump of glue :-) The difference between proper cooking time of orecchiette vs. penne is of 15 min. vs. 6 min. Also, orecchiette dough has a higher percentage of durum semolina compared to all other kind of commercial pasta.I commend you for the creativity. Please leave proper pasta to the Italians (and the Chinese) :-)Buon appetito!
  • #2
  • Comment by FX Hartigan
How pure, clean, authentic. I can't wait to try it.
  • #3
  • Comment by Cynthia
Hmmm.. Marco, a lady born in Cetona recently offered us a dish prepared in a similar fashion with fresh porcini mushrooms,  and a bit of boar sausage, using commercial Barilla penne and chicken broth as the liquid. The pasta came out incredibly tasty as it had absorbed the mushroom flavor through and through. Nicely dense and chewy, similar to but better than baked pasta, (but without the yummy crusty bits). I think you could try this method with any pasta and almost any liquid, as long as you keep an eye on it as you would do with risotto anyway.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Thank you for your email, definitely there are many pasta dishes you can cook like a risotto!
  • #5
  • Comment by Bart
I made this recipe tonight, but I used broccoli rabe (rapini) instead of broccoli, since I had the broccoli rabe in my CSA box.  Other than that, and using a chipotle in adobo, I made the recipe as is described.

Oh mon Dieu!  C'etait formidablissimo!!!  This is probably the best pasta dish I've ever made!  The texture of the orecchette was faboulous -- some were a bit firmer than others and it provided a very nice mouth feel over the usually bland and uniform texture of other pasta dishes.  And the sauce was rich, complex, and unlike any other sauce I've ever tasted.  I made sure to add some fresh lemon juice at the end (as I do with almost any pasta dish).  And I agree: the anchovies are an absolute necessity to add the necessary je ne sais quoi.

We ate it with a salad of greens that I made with a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, caramelized shallots, garlic, and scallion.  The extra acid in the salad was a very nice foil for the fatty richness in the sauce (from the pecorino).  My partner's comment was, "This is restaurant-quality."  Indeed it was.  A+
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Bart, sounds like you had a mighty fine time! I think pasta cooked like this might be better than restaurant-grade, the pasta served in restaurants is often precooked and lingers in hot water for hours, waiting for an order from unsuspecting diners. One thing restaurants do that is in common with this recipe is use some of the starch released by the pasta in the water to firm up the sauce, but cooking the pasta like a risotto is really not possible in a restaurant setting as you'll need one cook's constant attention per pot for 10-15 minutes. Ducasse does it.
  • #7
  • Comment by Fity
Ciao Francois!

Merci bien pour ton website fantastique!
I just stumbled upon your fantastic website while looking for pasta with broccoli recipe. Can't wait to try out this dish! One question though, the'crushed tomatoes' in this recipe, does it refer to fresh or canned tomatoes?

PS. Made your broccoli affogati the other night and it was deliciously yummy!!!

  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Fity, I use mostly canned tomatoes as we just can't find proper ripe and tasty tomatoes around my parts.
  • #9
  • Comment by Ronny
I think it's pretty neat that you can bring foodie joy across the globe.

Anyways, couldn't you cook the broccoli first and then add it to the pasta?
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Ronny, the whole idea of this dish and its poetry stems from cooking everything in the same pot, but you are very right that you could parboil the broccoli and then add them to the pasta, this would be safer in terms of cooking time.
  • #11
  • Comment by Steve
How much water is a "bowl of water"?

  • FX's answer→ Steve, in fact you can add the water cup by cup (250ml) and follow the instructions, it should work fine.

  • #13
  • Comment by Xavier
I did this dish at home yesterday and I was ashamed I had not discovered it earlier. Not only it tastes great but it is so convenient.
- Only one pan and one cutting board to clean
- A thick sauce in less than half an hour cooking
- More control of the perfect time to cook the pasta and the vegetables. Only the right time to add the brocoli can be a little tricky to determine.
- Easy dish to do while chatting and drinking with your guests (sorry but I did not wait for the mantecare to open the wine).

I have definitely added this technique to my "repertoire" and will consider to adapt it to other pasta dishes.

Thanks again !
  • FX's answer→ Glad it worked for you Xavier, indeed it's really fun and ideal for students cooking in a small space, it used to be a staple on my menu. Perhaps in the future I'll make an article about the tortilla soup, another great one-pot-treat!

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