Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is one of the signature pasta dishes from Apulia, city of Bari in particular.
This is a classic “poor man’s dish” or cucina povera that dates back to ancient times.
A couple of simple local ingredients like homemade pasta (orecchiette), seasonal veggies (broccoli rabe), anchovy fillets, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and peperoncino is what it takes to make an epic, world famous pasta.
Traditionally, orecchiete are made with durum wheat semolina flour (known as semola in Italian) and shaped by hand. In stores you can also find dry orecchiette pasta but I choose last one only if I have no other options. Fresh pasta ALWAYS beats its dry versions.
By the way, you can totally make this pasta with another typical pasta from Apulia, cavatelli.
Broccoli Rabe, also known as Rapini is a leafy vegetable that goes in season from late fall til early spring. Its light bitterness (when cooked) pairs perfectly with anchovies, garlic and peperoncino (hot pepper flakes).
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe is the most basic and classic version and it can be further enriched with flavors.
You can always lightly toast some breadcrumbs in extra virgin olive oil and top your orecchiette pasta right before serving.
With Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
You can also add a couple of chopped dried tomatoes and marinated olives to the sauce in the pan.
I personally love adding a spoon of sun-dried tomato pesto instead. It adds an incredible flavor and aroma!
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage seem to be the most popular variation outside Italy. To make it, simple brown Italian sausage (casing removed) in a separate skillet pan. Then add to the sauce and give everything a good toss.
Instead of cleaning and chopping fresh broccoli rabe, you can simply use Sauteed Broccoli Rabe that you’ve prepared earlier. OR you can cook a double portion of it intentionally to make orecchiette pasta the next day.
Orecchiette With Broccoli Rabe
- 1 lb fresh orecchiette pasta OR 12 oz dry orecchiette
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini)
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 4 anchovy fillets
- Pinch peperoncino (chili flakes ½ inch fresh hot pepper)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Put a large pot of water to boil.
- In the meantime, wash broccoli rabe under cold running water.
- Remove all yellow and dull leaves. Trim off the bottoms of the stems to remove tough and fibrous parts.
- If some of the stems are still thick don’t cut them off further but split the end with a knife until the stems thins out a bit. This will ensure your greens are cooked evenly. Chop coarsely.
- Once water is boiling add salt and broccoli rabe. Reduce the heat and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Past that time add orecchiette pasta and cook until pasta is “al dente”. Verify cooking time on the directions on the package.
- Dry pasta cooks longer!
- While pasta and broccoli rabe are cooking prepare the sauce.
- In a large skillet pan add a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil, pinch of peperoncino (or fresh hot pepper), garlic cloves crushed with a flat knife and anchovy fillets.
- Cook on medium low heat stirring continuously. The sauce is ready once garlic becomes fragrant and anchovy fillets are dissolved. Remove garlic (optional). Turn off the heat.
- Drain pasta with broccoli rabe.
- Add it to a pan with the sauce. Turn on the heat and toss everything for a couple of minutes until all the flavors combine.