For years I’ve been making a pasta dish with cabbage, caramelised onions and pancetta. Although, I sometimes melt a few anchovy fillets to replace the pancetta. Since the recipe originally came from an Italian cookbook, I had assumed it was Italian. Imagine my surprise when I started to run across references to a traditional Eastern European pasta dish with cabbage and caramelised onion. Haluski, halušky or Romanian, gălușcă, combines cabbage and onions fried in butter with pasta or potato dumplings similar to gnocchi. I guess the Italian version adds the pancetta although I have seen Haluski recipes that suggest that you can add bits of bacon or ham or even an anchovy fillet.
This pasta dish is a favourite winter dish for us. I’ve also been experimenting with substitutes for the cabbage. Since I love greens of all sorts, I thought that it might be interesting to use the leaves from broccoli which many people cut off and throw away. These leaves are full of subtle flavour and work well with the sweet flavour of caramelised onions. The major difference in this broccoli leaf version is blanching the leaves before sautéing with the onions.
Broccoli Leaf ‘Haluski‘
I expect the recipe would work well with other sorts of winter greens – collards, chard, kale, cavelo nero, etc. I’ve added optional ingredients here: tiny broccoli florettes (mainly for visuals) and strips of bacon or an anchovy fillet for that added umami flavour.
- 180g broccoli leaf (see note below), about 2 cups chopped
- a few small broccoli florettes (optional)
- 2 slices of streaky bacon (optional) OR one anchovy fillet
- 1 small red onion
- 60g butter
- 250g pasta of your choice
- Freshly ground pepper
- 30g Parmesan, freshly grated
If using fresh broccoli leaves, remove the tough ribs and boil for a minute until tender, drain and chop. The optional florettes should be very small, cut or removed from larger florettes. If you are using blanched broccoli leaves from frozen (see note below). Do not defrost, but use from frozen.
Cut the onion in half and then finely slice into half moon shapes. Put butter into a large pan and melt before adding onions. Fry on low-medium heat, stirring frequently until the onion takes on a deep golden colour.
If you are using bacon, cut it into small pieces and fry with the onions after they have taken on some colour until the bacon is crisp and the onion golden. If you are adding an anchovy fillet, add this to the frying onion and let it melt into the butter, smashing it with the back of a spoon. Add the optional florettes and let them cook a little before adding the broccoli leaves – either fresh or frozen. Continue cooking for about two to three minutes, turning them around in the buttery mix until the leaf is wilted or defrosted. Turn off heat and set aside while you make your pasta.
In a pot of well salted water. Bring to a boil and add your pasta, cooking it until it is al dente. Drain (but do not rinse), reserving the cooking liquid. I find that flat ribbon style noodle like pappardelle, fettuccini or tagliatelle work well with the recipe. Although I have seen many recipes that use penne or even farfalle shapes. The choice is yours. I used tagliatelle.
Place the pan with the onions (optional bacon) and broccoli back on the hob, add a small amount of the pasta cooking liquid (about 1/2 ladle full) and get it back up to heat until the liquid is gone. This will finish cooking the broccoli leaf. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Ladle on an additional pasta cooking water (about 1 ladle full) and stir until it has almost disappeared. The cooking water contains starch from the pasta which allows the ‘sauce’ to cling to the pasta. Mix in about 2/3 of the grated Parmesan.
Plate up in a shallow serving bowl, grate with fresh pepper and sprinkle on the reserved grated Parmesan.
Having the quantity of broccoli leaves available is tricky unless you grow your own where you can harvest as many leaves as you need. When you buy broccoli, however, there are usually only a few leaves left on the floret head. So, when I buy broccoli, I look for ones with a lot of leaves. I remove the leaves, take out the tough ribs on the larger ones and blanch them in boiling water with a pinch of baking soda (to help retain the green colour) for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Drain and rinse immediately in cold water before laying the leaves out on a tea towel to dry. Chop and package them in freezer bags or containers. I add to the container when I next buy broccoli. That way, I can be guaranteed to have enough, ready to be pulled out of the freezer when I want to cook with them.