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Penne with broccoli, anchovy, chilli and garlic

I’ve mentioned before that it is always on a Monday when I feel moved to cook something healthy for tea. The reason being that I tend to overindulge at the weekend. It used to be alcohol, now it’s food – I’m sure I’m not alone. This weekend for example, amongst other things, I ate a massive bag of wasabi peas on the way back from the gym, fish and chips, a spicy sausage pizza, a bacon and cheese burger and skinny fries, sticky toffee puddings, baked Camembert… I could go on.
They were all delicious but my body was calling out for something simple and healthy when Monday evening finally came. This dish is light but also immensely satisfying. What’s great about it is the you throw in the broccoli to cook with the pasta. I like it cooked quite tender so it breaks up in the pasta, but if you like your vegetables more al dente, add them half way through the pasta cooking time. 

Dressing broccoli with strong flavours such as anchovies, chilli and garlic is great if you’re not that mad on it, as I’m not. It soaks up the punchy flavours wonderfully, and so it doesn’t feel like your eating it just because it’s good for you, as people often do with broccoli when it’s served steamed as a side accompaniment to, say, salmon. I find broccoli boring when served naked; in my opinion it’s a vegetable that needs a little jazzing up. 

Of course, you can use another pasta, such as a variant on penne like rigatoni or tortiglione, or try fusilli or farfalle – and normal broccoli in place of purple sprouting (what we used here), and it will be just as good. We just happened to have those varieties of pasta and broccoli in. This is a simple recipe with few ingredients, but the devil is in the detail here – and there are two rules to follow: use good quality ingredients (good quality pasta, extra virgin olive oil, a good brand of anchovies), and be attentive when you’re cooking. If you do this you will get a wonderful end result. Once you’ve cracked this dish, if you do it right, I guarantee it will become a regular fixture in your house…

Once last thing… Don’t be afraid to put a wee bit of chilli in if feeding young kids. Mine really love this and there is only the merest hint of heat if you stick to 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of chilli. It’s good to introduce them early! Of course, you could always leave it out if you want to…

Serves: 3 adults (I go by 100g of pasta per adult / 50g per child)
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Total time: 15 mins

Ingredients: 300g pasta (plus a bit more for good luck)
200g purple sprouting (or normal) broccoli, florets taken off and stalks split and cut into 2 inch lengths (see picture)
4 big cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Whole tin or bottle of anchovies, about 15 of them in there normally 
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes or fresh red chilli (more if you like it hotter, I put extra aside to sprinkle on top)
About 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
50g parmesan, freshly grated
Half a mugful of the pasta cooking water 
Freshly ground pepper
More freshly grated parmesan, to serve 


  1. Whilst the water is coming to the boil, cut your broccoli up, taking the top bushy floret off, and then slicing the stalks down the middle and cutting them into roughly 2 inch pieces. This means all the pieces will cook evenly.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta and broccoli. Stir a little to prevent sticking and let it cook on a rolling boil. 
  3. Once your pasta is on, warm the olive oil oil over a low heat in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan and add your sliced garlic and chilli flakes (leave out if serving kids), loving it along attentively for about 5 minutes: you want it to soften without colouring too much. (Though a little colour on the garlic in this dish is good, you don’t want the taste of burnt garlic to ruin it!) 
  4. Add your anchovies, along with the oil, don’t bother slicing them as they will melt into the hot pan. Let this pungent mixture cook out on a very low heat, stirring it to help it mix and melt, for about 5 minutes more. If it’s cooking too quickly, i.e. the garlic is colouring, take it off the heat. 
  5. Take out half a mugful of starchy pasta cooking water and set aside. This is an essential step, don’t skip it!
  6. When there is about 3 minutes to go on your pasta (which normally takes around 10 minutes – so after about 7 minutes), take a piece of it out and bite into it – if there is a little bit of uncooked pasta in the middle of it, there is about 3 minutes left. Drain the lot. 
  7. Add your broccoli and pasta to the sauce and let it all come together, mixing well. Add a splash of pasta water and turn up the heat. Grind in lots of black pepper – no salt though as the anchovies are providing this element – as will the parmesan. Stir and taste – and stir and taste again! Add more water if you think it needs more liquid, you’ll be surprised how much liquid the pasta will soak up. Do this until it’s right – about 2 minutes or so. Toss lots of freshly grated parmesan through it. 
  8. Serve with more parmesan and chillies – and a little glass of robust red wine (not for the children, obviously). 
>> Check out more broccoli recipes!

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