Orecchiette are a very typical type of pasta in Apulia, Italy, where I come from. Broccoli rabe orecchiette is one of the most typical dish of the region as well as one of the most common way of using broccoli rabe.
The Italian terms for broccoli rabe
In Italian this dish is called orecchiette alle cime di rapa. Cime di rapa, in English rapini or broccoli rabe, are originally from Campania, where they are called friarelli. It is quite curious that, even though cime di rapa is the name used in Apulia, it is very common to find friarelli as a pizza topping in the same region. This shows how much diversity there is in Italy when it comes to the language. In fact, broccoli rabe are called broccoletti in Rome, rapini (o rapi) in Tuscany, broccoli di rapa in Calabria and pulezze in some areas of Tuscany.
Broccoli rabe orecchiette…or turnip greens orecchiette
On the web, you will find some recipes that will mention broccoli rabe orecchiette and some others that will have turnip greens in their ingredients. So, you might wonder what is the difference.
In fact, the turnip and the broccoli rabe are subspecies of the same species of vegetable (brassica rapa). Because of this, they both have similar green-leafed growth. While it is often more common to eat the root of a turnip, the turnip greens are perfectly edible and can be used just like broccoli rabe, which in turn is used only for its leafy green parts. With broccoli rabe, only the young leaves and green buds are used, while with turnips, you can use all the leaves (they don’t present buds).
The truth is that the difference is minimal enough so that you can use both to make your authentic Italian dish. They have a similar bitter and slightly nutty flavor that makes both of them a great vegetable to use for many dishes. The reason we provide these two options is the availability of the vegetables. Broccoli rabe is not available everywhere, so if you have turnips with turnip greens in your country, just buy them and make your homemade turnip greens orecchiette.
How to make orecchiette
With authentic Italian pasta dishes, it is important to remember to use the correct type of pasta. For this recipe of broccoli rabe orecchiette, we have to use orecchiette pasta which is one of the most typical pasta types in Southern Italy, particularly in Apulia and Basilicata.
The major question is: how can you make authentic Italian orecchiette? Here is the answer. You will need only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. You don’t even need a pasta machine for this type of pasta. Most of the typical Southern Italian pasta types do not contain eggs, so they are perfectly suitable for people who are allergic to eggs or are vegan. Broccoli rabe orecchiette pasta contains anchovy fillets, but you can take them out to have a full vegan dish.
Also, making your own homemade orecchiette will only take 60 minutes in total. It’s really worth a try!
Broccoli rabe orecchiette – ingredients
Once you have made your homemade orecchiette or you have bought fresh ones from a store, you can start taking care of the rest of the ingredients.
As said in the beginning, turnip greens or broccoli rabe are completely okay for this authentic Italian dish. Additionally, the following main ingredient that is typically part of this dish is anchovy fillets. Like in many Italian dishes, anchovy is used in a similar style to garlic, for example. In this recipe, garlic and anchovy are sautéed to create a flavorful oil for the broccoli rabe. If you want to keep your dish vegan, leave them out.
Once cooked, you will just need to add some toasted bread crumbs onto the pasta to give the final touch to it! Bread crumbs will need to be pan-fried in extra virgin olive oil. I still remember, when I was a child, that I always requested a lot of bread crumbs because I was not a fan of the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.
Broccoli rabe orecchiette
For the greens
Prepare the orecchiette pasta if making your own. Follow a recipe here and adjust the amount for as many people as you need.
If using broccoli rabe, remove external leaves, wash the rest, and dry well. OR If using turnips, remove the turnip greens from the root, wash them, and dry. The turnip itself is not needed for the recipe, just the greens.
Bring salted water to a boil in a pot. On a separate pan, over medium heat, toast the bread crumbs in half the olive oil until golden brown. Set aside.
Cook the broccoli rabe or turnip greens for 5 minutes in the boiling water. Add the pasta and boil for another five minutes. While boiling, move to the next step.If using dry pasta, instead of the fresh one, you might need to add the pasta earlier or even directly with the greens.
In the meanwhile, on a pan, add the rest of the oil, garlic clove, and anchovies. Cook over medium heat while constantly mixing until the anchovy fillets have dissolved. This takes only a few minutes. Then remove the garlic clove. Turn off the heat.
When the pasta and the greens are ready, drain them well and add them into the pan with the oil and anchovy "sauce". Turn on the heat briefly. Mix well and add a pinch of salt if needed.
Plate up the pasta and add the toasted bread crumbs on top with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve.