Even when I was a little kid I adored broccoli and would have loved this Broccoli and Orecchiette Lemon Ricotta Bake.
When most kids were sporting frowns and squishy faces at the sight of the green florets, I was beaming with giddiness. I would eat it raw with ranch dressing until my belly was so full I couldn’t eat another bite. I’d eat it steamed or boiled, and plain with salt and pepper or slathered in cheese sauce. No one could possibly ruin broccoli for me.
Today, I still love broccoli raw with ranch dressing, but I also like this hearty veggie in salads, slaws and fried. Although, Roasted broccoli seems to be my favorite method of cooking, laced with a bit of truffle salt and pepper and maybe a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Or gently steamed and then tossed in a garlic brown butter and sprinkled with shredded gruyere. Oh, and then of course, there is the classic steamed broccoli with a rich and creamy cheddar cheese sauce. What’s not to love?!
I use broccoli not only as a side dish but also as an entree. It makes such a fabulous addition to stir fry’s and pastas and I’ve even been known to puree it into a gorgeous filling with ricotta, garlic and lemon for ravioli. Which led me to this recipe – Broccoli and Orecchiette Lemon Ricotta Bake.
Orecchiette, meaning “little ears”, is a little “ear” shaped pasta that is perfect for pasta recipes with rich or delicate sauces and other delicious ingredients. It’s a smaller shaped pasta, and for me, it gives the perfect mouthful of ingredients to pasta.
Some pasta bakes feel heavy and the pasta seems to overwhelm the dish and can dry out if there isn’t enough liquid. So when I prepare a pasta bake it’s usually with a smaller variety of pasta like orecchiette.
Often I’ll use a béchamel in pasta bakes, but for this Broccoli Ricotta Pasta Bake I found the ricotta and lemon to be perfectly complimentary both in flavor and texture. Keeping the over all dish a little lighter in texture and bright in flavor. Perfect for the spring table.
Although broccoli can now be found in the markets year round, it’s season is October through April making it a grand “go to” green veggie for winter and spring. We have several farms here in the valley harvesting broccoli right now, in fact, I pass one every time I drive into town. They are the funniest looking plants right before harvest. Tall cabbage looking at first; and then at a closer view, it looks like the flower of a cabbage. Which is what it means in Italian, Broccolo “flowering top of a cabbage”.
However you prepare broccoli it won’t disappoint. Especially when it’s prepared in this lovely and light dish of Broccoli and Orecchiette Lemon Ricotta Bake. I’ve made this three times in the last few months, usually right before my oldest gal comes home for a visit. We always have leftovers for her to take back; which now makes her beam with giddiness.
Wishing you a most delicious week!
- 12 ounces orecchiette
- 1 pound broccoli, diced into bite size pieces
- 14-15 ounces whole milk ricotta
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
- 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
- 1 lemon zested
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- Serve with pasta sauce on the side if desired
Lightly butter a 9x11 or 9x13 baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Whisk together the ricotta, dried herbs, Italian parsley, lemon zest, minced garlic, parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper. Season the ricotta mixture with salt and pepper to taste. About 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
Then mix in the egg with the seasoned ricotta. Reserve.
Heat a large pot of water for the pasta and cook the pasta according to package directions. Five minutes prior to the pasta being done, add the broccoli to the pasta. When the pasta is done the broccoli should also be done. Drain the pasta and broccoli.
Gently toss the pasta and broccoli with the seasoned ricotta until it's well blended. Be sure to keep a light hand when tossing so the broccoli doesn't break up too much.
Pour the broccoli pasta mixture into the baking pan and then top with mozzarella cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Then remove the foil and let the pasta bake for another 10-15 minutes until the sides are a bit bubbly and the cheese is golden on top. If the cheese doesn't brown on top you can turn on the broiler and broil for a few minutes for the additional color.
Serve with a side of pasta sauce if desired.