Spaghetti with broccoli and leek

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Happy New Year! Back in Accra, where it is harmattan season, with the dry and dusty northeasterly trade winds blowing from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. It is also the end of the Year of Return, Ghana 2019 which is an initiative of the government of Ghana is intended to encourage African diasporans to come to Africa (specifically Ghana) to settle and invest in the continent. The year 2019 is symbolic as it commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans touched down in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States. (source: wikipedia)

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There are gift-wrapped cars along Independence Road, with diaspora welcome messages like this:

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And SO many lights and decorations this year in Accra this year! There are also posters for the planned new National Cathedral of Ghana, which they must still be fundraising for as it’s a 100 million dollar project. You’d think sanitation and clean water would be a better investment, but from the photos it does look beautiful.

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Building walls have gone up at the AU roundabout, where Independence meets Castle Road, with lots of glossy posters of what is planned (the brown building below at 3 o’clock). Looks like Gamel Abdul Nasser Ave would be closed right before Castle Road.

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Lovely advent holidays with family in Norway (risgrøt, pinnekjøtt, ribbe, pepperkaker) and Christmas in London with the in-laws (Christmas pudding, crackers, paper hats, Gavin and Stacey Christmas special on TV.) As usual I am not sure where I’ll be working this year, am waiting to hear if I am moving from Accra or not soon, but this time I am surprisingly chill about it. After some family health scares, I am just happy that most of the family is in good health. Time to start cooking again and get on with life.

Spaghetti with broccoli and leek

2 small heads broccoli, broken into florets
1 leek, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 salted anchovies
splash of olive oil
salt
pinch of chili flakes
250 grammes spaghetti
dried ricotta cheese

Cook the broccoli florets in salted boiling water until tender (save cooking water for pasta). Gently fry garlic in olive oil with anchovies and leek. It will not taste fishy, anchovies just provides an umami kick. With a slotted spoon scoop out broccoli and move it to the frying pan, then boil spaghetti in the broccoli water. While that is cooking, gently mash the broccoli in the frying pan with a little chiili flakes and salt. You might want to add a little starchy pasta water to loosen it. Drain pasta, stir it all together in frying pan and top with dried ricotta.

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Note: I actually used frozen raw leek, as I am trying to empty our chest freezer so we can sell it, so I just tipped the leek in in with the broccoli. As it had been frozen, the leek did not need much cooking.

Note 2: I was inspired by a recipe for Orechiette Pasta with Broccoli from the Accra Embassy Cookbook 2015. The recipe suggests using grated pecorino or dried sheep ricotta, and ends saying ” ….Serve it hot in a bowl. No Parmesan in this recipe, better no cheese at all than Parmesan, if you don’t have one of the above mentioned cheeses.”  Wonderful.

Fusilli with broccoli and prosciutto

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Back in Accra, where it is hot and sunny as usual. Here some handwoven baskets by the roadside, and it is always tempting to pick up another one.

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Need a broom or a rake? These are also available by the roadside. I was walking from Cantonments to Osu, on my way to the Chinese supermarket to buy fresh tofu and bok choi. Anyway, this month I am doing a pantry challenge and a no-shop month. Time to excavate the cupboards and the freezer, and to be a bit creative with what is on hand. I had some prosciutto from Rome, slightly out of date but still perfectly edible, so in it went, as a little luxury.

Fusilli with broccoli and prosciutto

One head of broccoli
1 tbs olive oil
One onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
200 grammes prosciutto
400 grammes of pasta
Handful of grated parmesan

Cut the broccoli into florets and blanch them in salted boiling water until tender, maybe five minutes? Fish the broccoli out and boil the pasta in the same water. At the same time, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic. Then add the prosciutto, diced (scissors work well). When the pasta is done, toss it all together and serve with grated parmesan.

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If you have safe water, add a little starchy pasta boiling water to moisten the pasta before adding cheese. There is typhoid and cholera here, and I cooked this with tap water, so better to be safe.

Enjoy with season five of Alias: we have three episodes to go before the very end!

Sunday lunch: pasta with broccolo romanesco and salsiccia

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Weekends in Accra can be very busy, or very long. I find it very quiet when my husband is not here, but have gotten back into reading and knitting (oh, so exciting). And cooking, of course. Cooking for myself is something I know I should embrace with more gusto, but it is much more fun to cook for others. Fortunately there are friends who are great company and who like to eat, so here is a recent Sunday lunch. I’d brought down a broccolo romanesco, that beautiful vegetable. How to best enjoy it?

Pasta with broccolo romanesco and salsiccia

One head of broccolo romanesco, about the same weight as your dry pasta
3 cloves garlic
splash of olive oil
4 Italian pork sausages
pinch of chilli flakes
splash of white wine
500 grammes short pasta of your choice
grated parmesan or grana padano

Wash the broccolo romanesco, and cut it into florets. I took off the coarsest part of the core, and tossed the rest in. Boil them in salted water until tender, 8 minutes or so depending on the size of the pieces. You’ll want it quite tender. Take the broccolo out and keep it aside, but SAVE the hot broccolo water, as you will boil the pasta in it.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic. Squeeze the sausage meat from its casings and fry it with the garlic until cooked through and crumbly.  Add a splash of white wine, and a pinch of peperoncino (chilli flakes). Add the broccolo and gently mash the bigger pieces, so they almost become sauce, it should be moist. You can prepare this in advance and then go have a glass of white and some antipasto. Accra has been lovely and cool (26C, so we sat outside).

When about ten minutes away from eating : bring the broccolo water to the boil again (yes, it will be green)  and tip the pasta in, with a little more salt. Cook the pasta to al dente and keep a cup or so of the starchy pasta water aside when draining it. That will go in with the salsiccia and broccolo when it is tossed with the pasta, to loosen it a bit. Salt and pepper to taste. Add grated cheese generously and enjoy!

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Note: you can definitely make this without the salsiccia, just with the broccolo and grated cheese. Very nice with, though. I’m down to eating meat 1-2 times a month here, so it needs to be good. This pasta served for with two small leftover boxes  for me. I’d made a pizza with broccolo romanesco and salsiccia in the past, also very nice. The grana padano block of cheese lives in the freezer, and is very easy to grate even when frozen. 

It was an excellent afternoon: South African white wine, Roman salami, fresh flatbreads and ricotta di capra con tartufo, then this pasta and grilled radicchio, and a plum/peach cake with ricotta. And good conversation, of course. It was nice to share the bounty after traveling. Now I’ll be debating what I can cook with more locally sourced materials. Availability of Ghana-grown vegetables is getting much better, so I am thinking of a rotolo stuffed pasta dish with greens and tomatoes. Maybe for the next lunch?

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PS why would someone bring pasta from Italy? Because it is expensive here! 9.99 cedi for Barilla is not bad (1.8 euro, 2.1 USD). However, I haven’t bought Barilla pasta since their chairman’s homophobic remarks in 2013. Apparently that has since improved, so I may reconsider to see how it compares to the West African Tasty Tom pasta. I’ve seen a few recipe for jollof spaghetti here (Nigerian) and here (Ghanaian – with canned beef, urrrgh) so that will be a future dish to try.