Orecchiette, which means "little ears" (a reference to their round, concave shape), is a regional symbol of Puglia. Traditionally, orecchiette are homemade. The combination of native, hard-wheat flour, and water (instead of egg) yields a firm-textured pasta.
The orecchiette are sauced with broccoli rabe that is cooked in olive oil seasoned with garlic, red pepper flakes, and chopped anchovy. (Anchovy is often used in combination with broccoli rabe and other bitter greens because the rich, salty flavor of the anchovy mellows the bitter taste of the vegetable.) The dish is finished with grated pecorino, and, classically, with fried breadcrumbs. Crumbled sausage may be added; it also balances the bitterness of the broccoli.
The broccoli rabe is traditionally blanched in the water in which the pasta will be cooked, which serves to infuse the pasta with the flavor of the vegetable.
- Coarse salt, to taste
- 7 Ounces broccoli rabe (about 10 stalks), thick stems trimmed, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
- 1/3 Pound orecchiette
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the breadcrumbs
- 1/2 Cup coarse breadcrumbs (made from day-old bread)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the heel of the hand
- 1/8 Teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
- 2 anchovy fillets, preferably salt-packed, deboned, rinsed, and chopped
- 1/3 Pound pork sausage, casings removed (optional)
- 6 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
Add the broccoli and cook until tender and still juicy, and crushes when pressed between thumb and forefinger, 2-3 minutes. (Do not overcook; the broccoli will cook again in the olive oil.) Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Then, add the orecchiette to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and fry, stirring until golden, about 30 seconds. Set aside on absorbent paper.
Then, combine the oil, garlic, red chile pepper flakes, and chopped anchovy in a large skillet. Place over low heat and cook until the garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. (Or, if using the sausage, cook the garlic for only 1 minute until softened but not colored. Then, add the sausage and cook for 1 minute.)
Drain the pasta, reserving about 2 cups of the cooking water. Add the cooked broccoli rabe to the skillet, season with salt, to taste, and toss. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the drained orecchiette to the skillet with enough reserved pasta water to bathe the pasta. Simmer until most of the water is evaporated and the pasta is cooked. (You should see a little emulsified liquid surrounding the pasta.) Adjust the seasoning to taste. Toss with the cheese. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the pasta and serve.