The names and their unique pronunciation may differ, but they all speak of the same spiky leaved delight. Broccoli rabe is a vegetable related to both the cabbage and turnip family, has 6” to 9” stalks and scattered clusters of tiny broccoli-like buds. There may also be small yellow flowers blooming from the buds, which are edible.
Broccoli rabe have a pungent, bitter flavor that is not particularly popular overseas where, more often than not, they’re used as animal fodder. We Italians are particularly fond of cime di rapa, however, and cook it in a variety of ways including stir-frying, steaming and braising. Broccoli rabe can be found from early fall to late spring.
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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 gr (1.1 lb) orecchiette
1 kg (2.2 lbs) cime di rapa (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 the cime flowers and sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Toss the orecchiette in the boiling water and after a few minutes add the broccoli rabe leaves and stalks. When the orecchiette are al dente, drain along with the greens and toss everything 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.
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