This second trip to Puglia gave us the opportunity to delve deeper into the region’s cuisine, and revisit such canonical dishes as Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa. Above: The fruttivendolo in Spongano, with chicories and cime di rapa (bottom) in season and on prominent display.
Spongano resides in the southern portion of Puglia, and we were there for a week attending one of The Awaiting Table’s cooking courses. Especially arranged for returning students, it was a wonderfully engaging blend of the old and the new. We were already familiar with making orecchiette, and adding farina di grano arso, or flour from “burnt grain,” was an unexpected treat. The dough, a blend of 2/3 semola rimacinata (semolina flour) with 1/3 grano arso, was a delight to work with — soft yet resilient, and highly workable.
Grano arso, a particularly Pugliese example of cucina povera, is traditionally made from the leftover grain gleaned from fields burned following the harvest. More typical of northern Puglia, some mills now offer a contemporary version and toast the semolina flour to replicate the smokiness of the original, a characteristic that marries perfectly in this dish with the bitter cime di rapa, salty anchovies, and peppery local olive oil.
Our trip afforded us many chances to sample different variations of this particular dish, including our last night spent at the airport hotel in Bari, not a place one usually thinks of as a gastronomic opportunity. However, with Italian business people as their main clientele, the hotel restaurant took pride in offering more than the standard airport fare. In this sleekly modern environment, we had a final, memorable plate of orecchiette di cime di rapa — plain semolina pasta heavily dressed in a bright green, almost a pureed, sauce, with just enough anchovy to balance the bitterness, but not so much as to mask the freshness of the cime di rapa.
On return and before we’ve had chance to even unpack, we assuaged our phantom homesickness by making a jet-lagged batch of orecchiette. Our hands were eager to get back into the rhythm of making pasta, and put into practice some of that which we learned while away.
We somehow neglected to plant cime di rapa this fall, but had a number of other brassica greens that readily took their place. We picked a couple of bunches of hon tsai tai to combine with the radish tops we saved just for this dish. The bright magenta of the hon tsai tai faded with cooking but, in the end, served fine as a substitute and added just the right amount of bitterness so integral to this dish.
The recipe for Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa can be found in a previous post. This time, though, we blanched the greens in salted water before chopping them up finely. We then sautéed a clove or two of minced garlic with a pinch of pepperoncino in olive oil, then added 4 to 6 anchovy fillets, cooked until they dissolved into the oil. The chopped greens are added to the pan with a splash of water, and cooked until tender. Once the greens are done, boil the pasta, then tossed the cooked pasta into the pan with the greens. If necessary, add more pasta water to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and finish with olive oil. If you like, serve topped with toasted breadcrumbs — we’ve come to appreciate the nuance of having it without. But, as we were constantly admonished with a culturally-based shudder, never ever with cheese.
Note: For more on making orecchiette, visit the talented Simona at Briciole, where she’s been exploring making this as well as other classic pasta shapes by hand, and offers a wealth of information, tutorials and links. She makes it doubly fun by including an Italian version of each post!
Local ingredients: Hon tsai tai, radish tops, and garlic from the garden.
Oh, what a delicious post!
Glad you enjoyed it, Katrina!
How interesting – why no cheese? I have to admit merrily adding cheese to all manner of pasta dishes that I probably shouldn’t but I do love it!
We once ate at a restaurant in Locorotondo, and the only other diners were an Italian couple from Naples. They requested cheese for their pasta, causing the cook to come out of the kitchen to berate them at length. When it came time for our own primi piatti to be served, we’d gotten the point by then (we may have been cowering) but were still warned, “No cheese!” Our trip gave me the chance to ask about this, and the reaction was always the same — the person would literally shudder at the thought, and respond, “No, no cheese!” “No, not ever!” It’s not that they never use cheese, it just seems to apply to certain dishes, and is just the way it’s done there. My own thought is that the cheese masks the flavors in some dishes. The subject of sausage in this pasta dish also came up, with the same reaction, “No, not ever!” Which isn’t to say you couldn’t, it just wouldn’t be Pugliese.
I assume you have seen the movie The Big Night. The subject of cheese made me think about it. If you have not, I recommend it. Beautiful post and beautiful orecchiette! I make mine definitely smaller. Thank you so much for the kind words. I am actually preparing a post about another pasta shape for later this week.
One of my favorite movies, I’m always looking for an excuse to make Stanley Tucci’s Timpano! I’ve been told the orecciette get larger the further south you travel in Puglia…
This looks amazingly delicious and just what I want to eat on a rainy day! I love all the pictures of greens, and wish I could try growing some non-winter greens.
Hey Claire! I know some of your winter greens are brassicas, and should work fine cooked, especially now that you know how to make this pasta!