[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]
Stalls lining the street, right on people’s doorsteps: wooden tables on which sun-kissed hands move quickly. Swift gestures that – as a lifelong pursuit – turn a mixture of water and flour into Puglia’s most famous pasta shape.
We’re talking about handmade orecchiette pasta, made in an alleyway in the historic centre of Bari: along Via dell’Arco Basso – colloquially known as “Via delle Orecchiette” (Street of the Orecchiette Pasta) – this ancient tradition has become a tourist attraction.
For this very reason, in our #forkEdition instalment, there could be no better city for us to visit than Bari, where they dedicate an entire street to orecchiette pasta!
Small, round, concave discs, with a thick edge, a calloused texture and a rough surface to pick up the sauce: orecchiette (Italian for “little ears”) are most famously paired with turnip tops.
But since this is not always an easy vegetable to get your hands on around the world, today we’re going to enhance our orecchiette with broccoli: purists may turn up their nose, but I guarantee this is a worthy alternative to the famous Orecchiette alle Cime di rapa (orecchiette with turnip tops).
In fact, if you can’t track down a packet of orecchiette, I even advocate using a different pasta shape! The most important thing is that the pasta is small and short (for example, rigatoni, penne, macaroni, etc.).
ORECCHIETTE ALLE CIME DI RAPA, BUT WITH BROCCOLI
[preparation time: 30 minutes]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 320 g orecchiette pasta (or another small pasta shape)
- 1 head of broccoli (approx. 500 g)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 chilli pepper
- 4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste: fine for seasoning, coarse for the pasta water
- a few tablespoons of grated cheese (preferably Parmesan)
We begin with the broccoli. First, remove the large stalks, since we will only be using the florets: make sure to pay attention to the smaller stalks too – you will need to check these over carefully, discarding the hardest and gnarliest parts. By using almost only the inflorescences, you will get a creamier sauce.
But be careful (again!) when cooking the broccoli, as it tends to get mushy rather easily, especially when you’re only cooking the florets. The usual struggle for us budding chefs!
The traditional recipe has you boil the broccoli and pasta together, but the success of this will depend on the size of the pasta and the recommended cooking time – this method risks the vegetables turning to mush...
Our tip? Steam the broccoli, if only for a few minutes to make sure it does not lose its texture: to avoid nasty surprises, check it regularly by prodding it with a fork.
For steaming, all you need is a perforated steaming basket and a high–sided saucepan filled with just a few centimetres of water, so that it does not touch the basket. Once the broccoli is steamed, be sure to save this water: it will help make your sauce creamier and is rich in the nutrients and aromas of the broccoli – it will even be slightly green!
When the broccoli is cooked (without losing its consistency, mind you!), put the florets to one side and blitz the smaller stems in a blender, seasoning them with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of oil.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta in plenty of salted water and sauté the garlic in a frying pan in a couple of tablespoons of oil: you can leave the cloves whole or mince them, depending on what you prefer. Then add the florets, a pinch of salt and the chilli pepper. The broccoli should be sizzling, without browning. This is just a quick step to bring out the flavour.
The final touch:
- drain the pasta while it is still very al dente (perhaps one minute earlier than the cooking time indicated on the packet)
- pour the pasta into the frying pan with the sizzling broccoli
- add another tablespoon of oil if needed, as well as the blended broccoli stems.
Loosen the sauce slightly by adding the cooking water (from the broccoli) and serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese.
And voila! Your Pasta ai Broccoli (inspired by Orecchiette with turnip greens) is ready to enjoy, just as if you were right there in Bari (almost...).
Buon appetito! 💗