Last summer, after I painted the hallway, I started rolling up the clear plastic drop cloth to throw it away, and Jeff almost went into cardiac arrest.

He’s a keeper. Not just “a keeper” but a keeper of Things That Might Be Useful In The Future. Like the original boxes for all of our tech stuff. Multiple sets of hiking equipment. And me!

In my world, keeping a drop cloth was serial killer thinking, but Jeff talked me into storing it for ONE YEAR.

Last week, we called a plumber to fix a leak in the basement. He got here around 4:30, sawed the basement ceiling open and found the leak. But he was going to have to fix it later, because he’d forgotten something.

You know it.

A plastic drop cloth.

Like me, whole grain pasta requires a partner that can hold its own.

You can’t treat it like a white pasta and pair it with any tomato-based pasta sauce, because whole grain pasta brings its own flavor to the table.

It’s kinda nutty.

So, you need to pair it with partners that have strong personalities. Like peppery arugula, bright grape tomatoes, roasted zucchini, grilled asparagus or, in this case, spicy broccoli.

I like to cook the broccoli florets with the pasta during its last two minutes of boiling, so they’re ready at the same time, and the broccoli is tender but not mushy. Once they’re drained, I toss them in a skillet with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, a squeeze of lemon and a little pasta water; top it with Parmesan and call it done.

Or not.

Sometimes I just keep experimenting, which is really fun when you have a great basic pasta recipe like this one. Yesterday, I added chopped grape tomatoes and the last few slices of deli ham. It’s also delicious with sautéed onion or mushrooms, a few spoonfuls of pesto, and goat cheese or feta instead of Parmesan.

When you’re in a meaty mood, toss in some cooked chicken, shrimp, Italian sausage, bacon or ham.

Eat it warm, or recycle the cold leftovers into a salad.

Go crazy!

Just don’t pair your whole grain pasta with something boring. It needs a partner that brings something useful to the table. Maybe not as useful as a plastic drop cloth, but you know what I mean.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Spicy Broccoli

This is a great basic recipe, delicious on its own and perfect for experimentation. Try adding grape tomatoes, sautéed onion or mushrooms. (And, when it’s not Meatless Monday, toss in some cooked chicken, turkey, shrimp, Italian sausage, bacon or deli ham.)

Adapted from Jack Bishop’s “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook”

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 large crown of broccoli
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) whole wheat, whole grain or regular spaghetti
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, shredded, or to taste
  • Optional mix-ins: cherry or grape tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, sautéed onion (If you’d like to add some meat, try cooked chicken, turkey, shrimp, Italian sausage, bacon or ham.)
  1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.
  2. To Prep the Broccoli: Discard the stalks, and cut the florets into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
  3. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté until the garlic is golden. Turn off the heat, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  4. When the water comes to a boil, add salt to taste and the spaghetti. Cook until the pasta is almost al dente, about 5 minutes, then add the broccoli.
  5. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.
  6. Add the spaghetti and broccoli to the skillet. Squeeze a little lemon over the top, and toss over high heat. Add the reserved cooking liquid to moisten the dish. Divide into bowls, top with cheese, and serve immediately.