Orecchiette with broccoli rabe or rapini is one of the most representative dishes of Apulia (especially of the Bari area), and symbolizes the region’s so called “cucina povera” (peasant cooking). It is a tasty and healthy dish made with orecchiette pasta and broccoli rabe. The slightly bitter flavor of this leafy dark green vegetable blends well with the starchy taste of pasta and the hot bite of fresh chili pepper. Orecchiette means “little ears” because of their shape; they are little concave disks. Orecchiette are made with semolina, flour and water. They are prepared by pressing a small amount of dough with one’s thumb pressure to create the characteristic depression. According to some legends, their shape also recalls the roof of the trulli constructions, the typical Apulian houses. The best orecchiette are, of course, homemade, but good ones also produced by some Italian pasta makers. The broccoli rabe, a leafy green vegetable and typical of Southern Italy, is very tasty and suitable for several pasta recipes. There are mainly two types, one from Bari with a tough stalk and a lot of leaves and another one from Naples (also known as friarielli) with a more tender stalk. If you prefer a milder taste you might use broccolini or regular broccoli. I personally love the bitter taste of broccoli rabe. The addition of pecorino cheese is optional, the traditional recipe does not call for any cheese.
Apulia is not only known for its delicious food, but also for its traditional ceramics. You can admire the artistic decoration of the ancient plate (more than 100 years old) shown in the picture below.
ORECCHIETTE CON CIME DI RAPA (ORECCHIETTE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI RABE)
Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Servings: 4
600 g (21 oz ) broccoli rabe
450 g (16 oz) fresh orecchiette pasta
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 garlic gloves, coarsely chopped
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and finely sliced
4 salted anchovies, rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino (optional)
Freshly ground pepper (optional)
1. Wash the broccoli rabe, trim away the stalk, conserving the blossoms and leaves. Cut the leaves into 5 cm (2 ½ inches) pieces
2. Bring about 3 l of water to boil. Add 1 ½ tablespoons cooking salt, add the broccoli rabe. Stir well and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the broccoli rabe with a fine mesh strainer. Set aside
3. Bring the broccoli water back to boil and add the pasta. Cook for about 5-6 minutes (until “al dente”)
4. While pasta is cooking , in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, sauté garlic, chili peppers and chopped anchovies in olive oil for 1 minutes. Mix in broccoli rabe and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to mix all the ingredients well
5. When the pasta is done, before draining it, reserve about 2-3 tablespoons of cooking water. Drain it and add it to the vegetable mix. Toss it for 1 minute adding some freshly ground pepper
6. Place the pasta on a serving plate and serve with freshly grated pecorino cheese. The addition of pecorino is my personal touch according to my taste!
Note: When you buy broccoli rabe make sure that the bottoms of the stems are relatively firm and green. If you prefer using dry pasta instead of fresh, you should reduce the amount to 350 g (12.5 oz). I cook the broccoli and pasta separately but you can add the pasta to the broccoli checking their cooking time. -Paola
This dish is indeed a classic. I bet if you asked America lovers of Italian food to name one Pugliese dish, this would be it. The dish has undergone quite a renaissance here, and is now served in many restaurants, even in upscale delis in larger cities. The varied textures, especially the toothsome orecchiette coupled with the assertive broccoli rabe and heat of the pepper have vaulted this one into the pantheon of favorites.
Broccoli rabe is new to many Americans, and its bitter flavor is a bit of a hurdle to be overcome, a process aided greatly if the stalks are peeled prior to blanching.
Congratulations on a thoroughly enjoyable and informative post, Paola. Your ceramic is truly a thing of beauty. How wonderful to have such a treasure.
Passion and Cooking says
Thanks Adri! That’s very sweet of you! I love the combination of pasta and vegetable, therefore orecchiette with broccoli rabe is one of my favorite dish. I am very glad that you enjoyed my post.