Apr 28, 2010

Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa recipe

Cime di rapa is a slightly bitter cooking green that has long been popular in Italy and is now catching on in America. Each Italian region calls these leafy greens in a different way. In Campania Napoli they're named friarielli, in Toscana rapini. In Rome, they're broccoletti and in Puglia, cime di rapa. The witty Apulian accent will make the name sound more like cim' di rep'. 

The names and their unique pronunciation may differ, but they all speak of the same spiky leaved delight. Cime di rapa is a vegetable related to both the broccoli and turnip family, has 6" to 9" stalks and sometimes scattered clusters of tiny broccoli-like buds. There may also be small yellow flowers blooming from the buds, which are edible. Overseas they can be associated with turnip greens, and a valid substitute is dandelion greens. It's best to just eat the florets and leaves of the cime di rapa since the stems are quite bitter.

We Italians are particularly fond of cime di rapa, and cook it in a variety of ways including stir-frying, steaming and braising.

Cime di rapa - turnip tops for orecchiette

Cime di rapa and broccoli Rabe are sometimes confused with one another, and although interchangeable, they are two different things. The former identifies with turnip tops (no florets or buds but maybe a more intense broccoli Rabe type taste) and the latter is the true broccoli cousin. In Bari if you order orechette with cime di rapa you will get whichever is in season. Cime di rapa are the main ingredient for this spectacular and authentic orecchiette recipe from Puglia. 


Orecchiette are a type of homemade pasta native to these lands, whose shape resembles a small ear. In Italian, "ear" is orecchio, so the pasta name translates to "little ears".

500 g (1.1 lb) orecchiette
1 kg (2.2 lbs) cime di rapa (turnip tops, broccolini, or broccoli raab)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small peperoncino, crushed
3 oil-preserved anchovy fillets (crushed and reduced to a paste)
Extra virgin olive oil
Pecorino Romano, grated

Wash the greens in plenty cold water and a fistful of baking soda to remove any field dust, soil, chemicals and unwanted pesticides. Rinse well several times and separate the flowers (if any) from the leaves and tender stalks.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large skillet, heat some olive oil, adding the garlic, peperoncino and the anchovy, stirring a bit to further crush all with a wooden spoon. Add only the cime di rapa flowers and sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.

Toss the green leaves and stalks in the water and boil for 7-8 minutes. Drain, set aside and continue boiling the cooking water. Boil the orecchiette in the same water and when the orecchiette are al dente, drain and toss everything – cooked orecchiette and greens – in the skillet with the sautéed flowers. Mix well to blend with indispensable swooping handle motion, dust with the grated cheese and dive in, head first.

Orecchiette alle cime di rapa recipe


  1. A sweet and savory hello from Frog Hollow Farm. We love cooking with brocolli and brocolli rabe - it's just always delicious, nutricious and yes, the brocolli rabe is a bit bitter. I love the sound of this recipe and can't wait to try it. The 'little ears' pasta is a great choice for this dish since each pasta piece with capture a delicious bite of the brocolli rabe mixture. Ciao, bella!

  2. I love this dish. Have no idea the vegetable went by different names in the same country. Very interesting.

  3. I love broccoli rabe!!! your recipe looks great with the pasta.

  4. hmm...not familiar with broccoli rabe...do like my broccoli though....hope you and your little one are having a wonderful spring!

  5. Delicious looking broccoli rabe has finally appeared in the MN markets and I don't have to mortgage my home to buy it. Using it ever day - loving it with the "little ears." They do catch every essence. Will definitely do this recipe in honor of spring.

  6. I love broccoli rabe Eleonora! Too bad my wife finds it too bitter (ah, these non-Italians!) so I don't cook it that often. I like it plain with garlic, or on hero sandwiches with chicken cutlets, with pasta and sun dried tomatoes or with sausages!I see you removed all but the flowers in your dish. Very extravagant!

  7. One of my very favorite pasta dishes, and just about my favorite non-summer vegetable. Guess what we're having for dinner tonight?

  8. In Positano, friarelli are those little green sweet peppers. I love broccoletti e salsicce...yum!

  9. I have just discovered your blog, and I reckon I'm going to enjoy it very much indeed! I've just moved to Liguria, and one of the many things on my 'list of things to do' is eat my way around this fantastic country. Are we seriously lucky to be here, or what?! Love your writing.

  10. We love this and often add spicy Italian sausage. We call it rapini here in Baltimore, Maryland, USA—well, at least on the street I live on. Like in Italy, it changes depending on where you are. :)

  11. I've heard of rabe, and seen it mentioned in various cookbooks, but have never sampled it. I'll have to remedy that situation.

  12. Ciao everybody, and thanks for your visit!

    FHFG~ Yes, that's the whole point nehind the "little ears," catching!
    Arlene~ Isn't that interesting?! I'm sure there are many more different names I don't know of.
    Sandi~ Thank you!
    Brian~ Oh you must try these!!
    Claudia~ Hurry because this is the tail of broccoli rabe season!
    Joe~ I don't discard, I separate! I sauté the flowers and boil the leaves and stalks along with the pasta for a double flvor bonus!!
    Giovanna~ I agree, it's my favorite winter veg (along with cicoria!)
    Rosa Bella~ That's right, friarielli in Pos are the peperoncelli I cook with tomato sauce! Thanks for reminding me!!
    Stratusviatoris~ Thank you, and welcome to Italy! We are lucky indeed.
    Tracy~ I've heard of the sausage addition in the US. Interesting.
    Jim~ It has character, so I think you'll like it.

  13. So good and so healthy, I love it!!

  14. Delicious! i will make this for sure, we love all veggies so i'm always looking for more recipes that include them.
    love to you sweetie! and thank you.

  15. Mmmmmm, looks yummy! Just over from sixtyfivewhatnow...Rosaria is promising us a recipe...I'd love to sit at HER table!!!!

  16. The seeds we planted have just come up - MUST try your yummy recipe when it's ready to eat... can't wait! (We like it with sausage, too...)

  17. Love your recipes. They are simple to make and delicious!

  18. Another delicious looking dish I must try as we like brocoletti, same word here in northern Lazio.

    Buon Compleanno per Domani.

    I remembered as you told me some time ago that we share a Birthday. Enjoy your day.

  19. Chuck~ I know!
    Rosaria~ Buon appetito, then.
    Lori Ann~ This is really really good, you'll see.
    Becky~ Me too!!
    Farfalle~ You are soooo lucky! Forage away happy.
    Browsing~ Thank you! Dig through my archive...
    LindyLou~ Anche a te auguri!!!

  20. When on earth are they going to invent blogs where we can taste the goods !?!

    This is getting to be just a little frustrating seeing all these delicacies but not being able to taste them... only able to salivate mightily...

    Ah, there are worse forms of torture I suppose than having to visit Lola's blog regularly, but not many...

  21. Apulia is a favorite region of mine, up and down the coast and the inland, would not want to have to chose a favorite place! The food is good everywhere: In Manfredonia, I had the best fish soup of my life and near Francavilla I was served a bowl of orecchiette con cima di rape selvatica with ricotta salata that will forever remain in my memory (close second the wild asparagus we used to collect in the Roman countryside on early Sunday mornings in spring, tritato and served in an omelette, ah the flavour explosion!).

    Luckily, cima di rape was sold at the Magruder grocery stores in the Washington DC area (only later would Fresh Fields join and offer it too). I used to boil the vegetable first, then cook the pasta in that same water, the reason being that the orecchiette always took much longer to cook than the fresh Italian ones.

    In the USA, some time ago, a sweeter version of rapini arrived at the markets, looking like a cross between broccoli and rapini, albeit sweet tasting and without those delicious flower buds and very expensive.


    (I have been extremely busy lately, and will continue to be at least until the semester ends, hardly time to keep up with my own blog, much less so visiting my blog friends. Sadly, I shall also miss the Caravaggio exhibition in Rome, which really makes me want to cry.)

  22. Hi Lola I've just read your article "In Cucina" - it paints a beautiful and tasty picture!

  23. I just stumbled upon your blog and love it! I just started one this year, because I love to cook & eat. I'm Italian American, too and I would absolutely LOVE to be living in Italy, and eating my way aroud it. I've never really cooked with brocolli rabe, but I'm going to give it a try!

  24. Man, I LIVE on cime di rapa (and I obviously therefore live in Puglia). Here in Lecce there is a woman who makes great orecchiette, and I like to buy from her, fresh made.

    I think this is my first time commenting - I very much like the way you write!

  25. I have been told that the the Neapolitan friarielli is not broccoli rabe. I came across this in a book where the other says, that broccoli rabe pales in comparison to friarielli. It's only available around Naples, because it goes bad fast.

  26. Hey! Can you please comment about how you make the lines on the orecchiette?

  27. Thank you all for your lovely comments, I'm sorry I never got around to individually replying to each!

    I promise to come visit your blog soon!

    You are so lucky to live in Lecce, one of my all-time favorite cities in Magna Grecia!! ;)

    Kevin NYC~
    Friarielli, rapini, cime di rapa, broccoletti... each region calls then differently. But I agree, they do pale in comparison with broccoli rabe. The ones in Naples also benefit from rich volcanic soil and proximity to the sea... sigh.

    The ridges and wrinkles come naturally when you press the dough with your thumb to make the distinctive "ear" shape! It's a question of dough texture, not regular impressions like the lines on gnocchi, which you get by pressing each gnocchi on the tines of a fork or rubbing them down along a special ribbed wooden tool.