Orecchiette Pasta con Cima di Rapa

February 3rd, 2012
cimadirapa_finished

This is a standby at La Romita, and one of Edmund’s favorite recipes. Like many dishes served at La Romita, it has just a few ingredients: the challenge of this deceptively simple dish comes in its preparation, which while not lengthy (I made it in about 35 minutes) involves attention to detail.

Cima di Rapa - literally, turnip tops – translates to turnip greens: at  La Romita either turnip greens or broccoli rabe are used interchangeably for this recipe, depending on what’s in season. I used broccoli rabe, since in the winter that’s readily available in many stores across the United States in the winter. Egizia informs us that you can also use frozen cima di rapa, though that might not be easier to find if your grocery store doesn’t carry it fresh. Orecchiette pasta (“little ears”) is the traditional, and best shape, for this dish, although you can of course substitute another short pasta shape such as conchiegle (“shells”).

Orecchiette Pasta con Cima di Rapa

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, hard stems cut off and cut into large, 2 inch pieces
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with the back of a knife.
2-3 tsp anchovy paste
3 Tbs olive oil
1 pound orecchiette pasta
pepperoncino *
3-4 ounces freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, finely grated, to taste
Salt

Preparation:

Fill a 6 quart stock pot half full, bring the water to a boil and salt the water generously, about 1 tablespoon.  Meanwhile, prepare the broccoli rabe: Cut off and discard 4-6 inches of the tough ends and coarsely chop the remainder into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Wash the rabe, further discarding the larger, coarser stems without any leaves or flower-heads. Add the roughly chopped rabe to the boiling, salted water, bring back to a boil, and cook until the stems are fork-tender, 6-8 minutes. Using a fork and handheld sieve, scoop the rabe pieces from the water and place in a colander — do not drain the water away, as you will cook the pasta in the same water. Return the stock pot to the stove and keep the water on a gentle boil.

Using the back of a large spoon, press as much water as possible from the rabe pieces. Transfer the rabe to a large cutting board, and with a sharp chef’s knife chop the rabe very fine. In a large All-Clad or non-stick skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of oil on low heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is lightly colored. Remove the garlic pieces, and add the anchovy paste to the olive oil, mixing to dissolve the anchovy paste into the oil as much as possible (it will clump a little, which is OK). When incorporated, return the garlic to the mixture and add the finely chopped broccoli rabe. If desired, add 1-2 crushed pepperoncino peppers. Stir until the mixture is fully incorporated, then half-cover and keep on low heat.

Bring the salted water back to a roiling boil and add the orecchiette pasta. Return to a boil, stirring vigorously to keep from clumping, and cook for 10-11 minutes or until al dente, stirring as necessary to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot and from clumping together.  Before draining the pasta, remove 1 cup of the starchy, salty water and set aside. Add the cooked, drained pasta to your serving bowl. Next, add the broccoli rabe mixture and mix thoroughly to incorporate, adding a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water as the mixture gets dry. The water will be starchy from the pasta –  more so from having been cooked in a relatively small amount of water –  and the starch molecules will help the pasta and sauce mix together more easily. Add the grated pecorino cheese and stir: serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

America’s Test Kitchen has a 5 minute video describing the preparation of  Spaghetti with Pecorino and Black Pepper – Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe – a classic Roman pasta dish. Reserving water the pasta has been cooked in and later adding it to the dish is a technique every Italian raised in Italy seems to know, and this video explains the scientific basis for why it works – fascinating.

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