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Nicole Kidman’s Pasta is a pasta that is unlike any other pasta dish I’d ever had before. It is a vegetarian dish: a pasta that is FRIED to a crispy golden brown. Addictive at first bite, it made me love broccoli in a way I’d never loved broccoli before. I first discovered it when my kids were babies, in 1998, when Paul Newman published his cookbook, benefitting his Hole in the Wall Gang camp for sick children. Someone asked the actor with the gorgeous blue eyes what his favorite recipe was in his book, and he named Miss Kidman’s Pasta.
At that point, I knew I had to try it! When you are lucky enough to hear from the cookbook author THEIR favorite recipe? You know it’s a sure fire winner! And it’s certainly one of OUR family favorites!
Plus, whether your family is vegetarian or not, this dish is exquisite. I think it’s important even if you’re NOT a vegetarian, to have a delicious vegetarian recipe or two in your back pocket, available to you whenever you want to entertain friends who ARE vegetarians.
Wait a Minute: Fried Pasta???
Nicole Kidman’s Pasta has a few steps, but all the steps are easy. (Remember, I’ve made it since my kids were babies, so if I could do it then, you can do it now!) The most important step to remember is that you need to exercise patience, initially, when you brown the pasta, to get that golden edge on the noodles. It’s also important to choose a pasta with a large surface area that will lie flat in the pan, so that it can get that caramelized edge that will make is so crispy, crunchy, and delicious. Orechiette (which means little ears) is the pasta Ms Kidman calls for, but it can be harder to find, so if you can’t find it at your local market, just look for a pasta that has a large surface area that will lie flat in the pan. The pictures in this post show that I ran out of orechiette, so I used a rigatoni that I had on hand, which worked really well.
Another step that I think is important is to peel the broccoli “trunks” or stems, and cook them as well. The stems are perfectly edible if you peel off the tougher outer coating, and are some people’s favorite part of the vegetable. The trick is understanding how to cook them: they take a bit longer than the broccoli top. So peel your broccoli stems, slice them into circles/pennies, and then drop them in your cast iron pan/sauté pan first. They take a couple minutes longer to cook than the “tree tops” do. Cut the tops into bite sized pieces. No one wants to try to stuff an overly large floret in their mouth.
Toasting the Pine Nuts
You’ll want to toast your pine nuts before you begin cooking, maybe while your pasta water is coming to a boil. To toast my pine nuts, I just pour them into a small sauté pan and heat them for a few minutes over medium low heat, stirring often. When they start to get brown, they can burn quickly, so keep a close eye on them. The aroma will help you know when you’re almost there, so keep sniffing as well. When you get them the color you like, remove them quickly from the pan. I pour mine out onto a little saucer so they can cool. If you leave them in the pan, merely removing the pan from the heat, they are likely to burn, and pine nuts are a bit expensive, so you don’t want to do that.
It goes without saying that you don’t want to use the Parmesan in the green can, doesn’t it? (Please, tell me it does!) You want to use the real deal: you NEED the gorgeous nuttiness of Parmigiano Reggiano, grated with a zester/microplane/rasp type kitchen tool. Do not cut this corner, I’m begging you. If you haven’t tried it before, you will kiss me later for making you go the extra mile. There just is no comparison.
- 1 lb orecchiette or similar pasta with lots of flat surface area
- 7 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 12 ounces broccoli florets (I use the stems, too. I just slice them and sauté them for a couple of minutes before I add the “tree tops”)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, toasted
- 1 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Cook pasta in a large pot, according to package directions, in water that is salty like the sea. Drain the pasta in a colander.
- Wipe out the pot you cooked the pasta in, to use for mixing all the ingredients you're about to sauté.
- In a 12 inch skillet heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until skillet is hot, add half the cooked pasta and cook until medium brown on the outside-about 3 minutes. Stir pasta, then cook until browned on the other side. With slotted spoon return pasta to large, clean pot, and cover to keep warm.
- Repeat with the remaining pasta and 3 more tablespoons of oil.
- In the same skillet heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil on medium. Add broccoli stems and sauté for one or two minutes. Then add broccoli florets and sauté 4 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté one more minute, stirring constantly. Add wine, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook until broccoli is tender crisp about 3 minutes longer.
- Add broccoli mixture, balsamic vinegar & toasted pine nuts to pasta in large pot and toss.
- Add half of the parmesan cheese and toss to combine.
- Serve with remaining parmesan cheese.
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