Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa – (Calabrese Broccoli)

I went to the greengrocer’s this morning as the fridge was bare and came across some lovely bunches of purple-sprouting broccoli, a British classic with a very short season. Since one of my favourite Italian dishes is the Puglian classic orecchiette coi broccoli – or orecchiette con cime di rapa I thought I’d have a bash at making it using some good British broccoli instead. Cime di Rapa are turnip tops, or what we in the UK call Calabrese broccoli, tight green sprigs of what looks like broccoli but longer and thinner, with flat, long leaves and tough roots. The taste is quite bitter and marries perfectly with orecchiette “little-ears” pasta as the sprigs disintegrate whilst cooking and nestle in the crook of the ear shapes.
To make the orecchiette you’ll need:
1 cup of semolina flour
2 cups of grano tenero tipo 00 pasta (you’ll find it under “pasta flour” in the supermarket)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of lukewarm water
For the sauce:
bunches of purple-sprouting broccoli or calabrese broccoli (cime di rapa)
dried chilli peppers
olive oil
Mix together the two flours and the salt and form a mound on your work surface. Dig a well in the centre of the mound and pour in a bit of the water.
Working from the edges of the mound inwards, slowly form a dough out of the water and flour mixture until you have a soft, round ball of dough. Knead this for about 20 minutes until it is elastic and firm. At this point, put a large pan of salted water on to boil.
Roll it into long, thin strips. Take one of the strips, and rip a pea-sized amount off it in a little ball, the press the ball into the pal of your hand using your thumb to flatten it into a small round ear shape. Continue until you’ve used up all the pasta dough.
To make the broccoli sauce…
Your pan of water should be boiling by now, so plop in the broccoli. These will have been trimmed off their tough stalks and separated into small florets and leaves.
Boil for no more than three minutes. Drain them but conserve the cooking waster which (if you’re using purple sprouting broccoli) will have taken on a blueish hue. These are all the good nutrients and flavour of the broccoli which we will now cook our pasta in.
Once you’ve drained the broccoli, heat up a generous spoon of olive oil in a pan and add some chopped garlic and pepperoncino: small bird’s eye chillies, to taste (the Pugliesi like their spice, as do the Calabresi). Fry these lightly then add in the broccoli, leave these to simmer in the frying pan gently as you cook the pasta.

Bring the broccoli cooking water to the boil again, and toss in the orecchiette. Give them 3-4 minutes then drain them and add them to the broccoli in the pan. Mix well and coat all the orecchiette with the broccoli and oil and serve with salty pecorino.
A good wine to have with this is a rich red pugliese Primitivo di Salento…

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