Orecchiette is the pasta shape of the Puglia region of Italy and I was lucky enough to watch it being made by hand in Bari. It’s also the star of the show in this recipe, which also hails from the same area. I had never had orecchiette con cime di rapa before I went to Puglia, but once I did have it, I was hooked.
And when I’m hooked I try my best to recreate the dish when I come home, knowing full well that my success rate is at best about 70% just based on the availability of the exact ingredients I’ll need (because everything is fresher and better tasting it Italy). And perhaps reduced to 50% because even though I do pretty well, I’m not a trained chef and I have no Italian nonna to show me the ropes.
So, I’m pretty happy if the dish tastes half as good as I had in Puglia.
Like many Italian pasta dishes, this recipe is relatively easy and the ingredient list short, but it will take practice to make this because it’s all in the timing and technique. Months later, I’m still practicing.
One of the main ingredients is turnip greens, which is called rapini. You’ll likely have access to broccoli rabe, which will do fine.
I’ve seen many different recipes for this dish and all require cooking the broccoli rabe, which helps to take some of the bitterness out. This can be done by blanching or sautéing it separately or throwing it in with the pasta while it’s boiling, which is my personal preference for two reasons -1. less pots to clean and 2. the pasta can absorb some of the broccoli rabe flavor while it’s cooking.
One surprise? The authentic recipe contains anchovy, which I typically don’t love, but couldn’t really detect. So you can certainly omit it, but experiment with one or two in the recipe – you might like it.
Orecchiette Con Cime di Rapa
1 lb of orecchiette (an artisanal brand from Puglia is best)
2 bunches of broccoli rabe, rinsed well, tough outer leaves and stems removed
4-5 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
a few anchovies packed in oil, mashed
generous pinch of red chili flakes (to taste)
Here’s what you’ll do:
While you put a pot of hot water on the boil, prepare the broccoli rabe.
When the water boils, salt it and add the pasta. Stir and cook according to package directions or until al dente. About half way through the pasta cooking time, add the broccoli rabe to the pot and continue to boil.
As the pasta is cooking, in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and chili flakes, cook until garlic is softened, but not browned. Add the mashed anchovy and stir until almost dissolved. Keep warm on very low heat to avoid the garlic burning.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta and broccoli, reserving a bit of the cooking water.
Add the broccoli rabe and pasta to the sauté pan, turn up the heat slightly and stir or toss gently, just until the ingredients are combined, adding a bit of pasta water if it seems dry.
Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.