This terrific warm (and yes, vegetarian) pasta gets a flavor boost from a quickly made garlic and red pepper-flake oil. Goat cheese adds tang and creaminess, sundried tomatoes and the nicely browned broccoli add umami. Be sure to save a little pasta-cooking water when you’re making this, as you’ll use it to bring the whole dish together.  This makes supper for two with a salad or cup of soup.

I like to use celentani for the pasta, but any curly pasta will do. This recipe originally appeared in my cookbook, The Fresh and Green Table (Chronicle Books, 2012).

Serves 2 to 3

  • Kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ pound celentani, cavatappi or other corkscrew-shaped pasta
  • 1 pound small broccoli florets (from about 4 crowns, cut into pieces about 1 to 1 1/4 inches long and 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes 
  • 1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano Reggiano 
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled while still cold

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set a colander in the sink, and set a glass liquid measure next to it. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it until firm-tender, about 9 to 10 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Take the pasta pot off the heat, and before draining the pasta, ladle or pour about 2/3 cup of the pasta water into the glass measure. Drain the pasta in a colander and let sit.

2. Put a small heat-proof bowl near your stove. In a large nonstick stir-fry pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil. Cook for just 20 to 30 seconds — don’t let the garlic brown. Pour and scrape all of the seasoned oil into the heat-proof bowl and reserve. Wipe the pan out with a paper towel.

3. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the broccoli, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well. The pan will seem crowded and the broccoli may look dry, but it will give off moisture as it cooks. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli  florets have shrunken and most have a little browning on them, about 10 minutes.

4. Measure out 1/3 cup of the pasta water (save the rest) and pour it into the stir-fry pan. Quickly add the sundried tomatoes. Cover the pan briefly (if you don’t have a lid, improvise with a sheet pan) until the water has simmered down to almost nothing (this will happen quickly). Uncover and remove the pan from the heat.

5. Add the drained pasta to the pan, season it with ¼ teaspooon salt, and drizzle it with all the reserved garlic-red pepper oil. (Be sure to scrape all of the seasoned oil out of the bowl.) Stir briefly. Add all of the goat cheese and most of the Parmigiano and stir well again until everything is well-distributed. Add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of pasta water, and stir again until the goat cheese loosens up a bit and becomes creamier. Add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of pasta water if necessary.

6. Serve right away, garnished with the remaining Parmigiano.