“Us cooks are nothing without farmers and gardeners that grow their crops with intention and love. It makes a world of difference especially in a cuisine that is only based on ingredients and their quality.” — Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta
With the pomodorini now tucked away, my attention turns to the other Italian vegetables now growing in our garden. When a Roman friend found out we were visiting Puglia last fall, we discovered that her family was originally from Lecce, the town we planned to stay at. Among the Pugliese dishes she remembered with rapture was le orecchiette con le cime di rapa, or “little ears” pasta with rapini, similar to broccoli rabe.
We learned to make orecchiette while in Lecce, and sampled many versions of this dish during our travels through the region. Since then, I’ve continued to make orecchiette at home. Now that the cime di rapa is in season, come by if you ever want a lesson — it’s best when made with others. This recipe is for Robbie, who, when he heard me describe this dish, gave me the seeds to grow the cime di rapa.
Orecchiette con le cime de rapa
Orecchiette or “little ears” pasta with rapini
1 lb. orecchiette pasta (home-made or dried)
2 large bunches of cima di rapa, or broccoli rabe, washed and drained
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red chili flakes
2 anchovies (optional)
Breadcrumbs toasted with olive oil
– Chop the leaves and the tender stems of the cime di rapa, leaving the flower heads whole. The finer the texture, the more evenly the cime di rapa will coat the pasta.
– Bring a pot of water to a boil.
– In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan generously. Saute the garlic and chili flakes, until the garlic is fragrant but not overcooked. If using, add the anchovies and continue to cook until the anchovies have broken down. While the oil is still hot, toss in the cime di rapa with some salt to season, and cook until wilted. Depending on the age and type of cima di rapa, if necessary, cook longer until tender. Remove pan from heat.
– Salt the pasta water and cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain and add to the frying pan. Toss to coat with the cime di rapa, adjust the seasoning, and finish with some luscious olive oil and toasted breadcrumbs.
– Serve with extra breadcrumbs alongside at the table, never with cheese.
Note: The cime di rapa, or rapini, that we saw growing in the Salento is more leafy than the broccoli rabe usually found here. This dish can be made with most any other cooking greens — radish tops, beet greens, chard, kale, asian greens — just adjust the seasonings to suit the bitterness or sweetness of the greens.
Recipe adapted from The Awaiting Table.