Today I walked to the market in brilliant sunshine and came back with bags of fruit and vegetables, chosen in the moment because they looked good.. Particularly tempting were the vividly green cime di rape, or turnip tops – tell a Pugliese that in England we eat the turnips themselves, as I did when I first arrived, and it confirms their belief that all ‘stranieri’ are just that, strange. In fact although related to turnips, cime di rapa, also known as broccoli rabe, are something different. Either way, today I am making orecchiette, the typical pasta pugliese, shaped apparently like ‘little ears’ with cime di rape..
In the likely event that you are unable to get your hands on any turnip tops, you can substitute broccoli, but chose the kind that is mostly ‘flower’ rather than stalk. Orecchiette are easier to come by, but failing that use dry pasta such as fusilli or penne, fresh pasta made with egg is too soft.
Italian recipes are notoriously imprecise, and peppered with the abbreviations qv and qb – quanto vuole (how much you want, or is needed) e quanto basta (how much is enough). I must admit this suits my style of cooking, and in this case it is impossible to do otherwise –quantities are a matter of personal taste
You will need:
Cime di Rape or broccoli – remember they will diminish while cooking so be generous
Garlic – one or two cloves according to taste
Peperoncino or chili pepper – whole, dried is best but you can use fresh or from a jar if you have to – I use one or two whole ones depending on size.
Some versions also use a couple of anchovies
A good olive oil
Orechiette, fusilli or penne
If you do have cime di rape they are prepared by stripping away the big tough leaves, but keeping the smaller ones, trimming the stalks and cutting a cross in the bottom of the stalks to help them cook at the same rate as the ‘flowers’.
Cook the vegetables in salted water until they are semi-soft but retain a vivid green colour. Drain well but retain the water – you will use this to cook the pasta (add more water if required and bring back to the boil).
Put the olive oil into a pan – a wok type pan is ideal, otherwise a wide shallow saucepan is better than a standard frying pan. Remember that the flavoured oil forms part of the sauce, so use more than a splash.
Put the pasta on to cook. Heat the oil and then add the chopped garlic and chili and cook in the oil, taking care that that the garlic doesn’t colour or burn. Add the anchovies if used and the cooked greens, lower the heat very slightly and stir until the vegetables are soft and start to break down slightly. You want to retain the vivid green colour so do this quickly.
Drain the pasta and, if your pan allows it add the pasta to the vegetables and stir until evenly mixed. Failing this mix in a large serving bowl…
For market visists, cookery lessons and all things Pugliese for foodies see www.personalpuglia.com