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Orecchiette con cime di rapa is a traditional Italian recipe from Apulia, a south-eastern region with incredible food, history, and beaches. Homemade orecchiette are easy to prepare, with two simple ingredients: water and durum wheat semolina flour.
The most famous and delicious orecchiette dish is made with broccoli rabe and is known as "orecchiette con cime di rapa" all over the world.
What are orecchiette
Orecchiette literally means "little ears" in Italian. Orecchiette are a type of pasta typical of the regions of Puglia and Basilicata, whose shape is approximately that of small ears, hence the name.
In this blog post we show you first how to make authentic Italian orecchiette, at home, from scratch. Then, we cook the orecchiette in a delicious broccoli rabe sauce made with olive oil, garlic, and chili.
Fresh homemade pasta is much better than store bought pasta because it has a better, more satisfying texture and flavour. It's also the perfect family activity for kids and adults alike. I forgot to mention that this dish is 100% healthy and vegan.
For other delicious pasta recipes check out our vegan carbonara, homemade trofie with basil pesto, or artichoke pasta bake.
Ingredients & Substitutions
For the homemade orecchiette
- Durum wheat semolina flour: this is the main ingredient of orecchiette and should not be replaced with regular flour. If you want to buy an Italian version of this flour, then search for "semola di grano duro rimacinata". Two brands that are easy to find abroad are De Cecco and Caputo.
- Water: tap water is fine.
NB: there is no oil, salt, eggs, or any other ingredient in the original recipe of orecchiette from Bari, Apulia. However, as with many dishes in Italy, you'll find people that add olive oil and salt to the pasta dough. You can do that if you wish, but is absolutely not necessary.
For the cime di rapa sauce
- Cime di rapa - broccoli rabe: Italian cime di rapa are hard to come by outside of Italy, so if you are not able to find them you can replace them with either your local broccoli rabe or the florets of regular broccoli.
- Extra virgin olive oil: have you ever been to Apulia? They have some of the best olive oil in the world, and it's the oil that makes this dish special. So try to get some good quality one imported from Italy if you can.
- Chili Pepper: you can use fresh or dry red chili, but the dish should not be too spicy. Just a hint of spice.
- Garlic: a clove or two to add flavour to the oil. We put it whole and then remove it.
- Soy sauce: before you freak out, keep reading. There is NO soy sauce in the original recipe of orecchiette con cime di rapa, however, in many Apulian households they add anchovies to this recipe.
Anchovies are a very popular flavour and umami booster in many Italian recipe. But since we are vegan, we replaced the anchovies with soy sauce. You won't be able to tell the difference. I promise.
Soy sauce is the perfect umami booster and replacement for anchovies. You can skip the soy sauce if you wish, but then you need to add some more salt to the sauce.
- Salt: you'll need coarse salt to season the pasta water and fine salt to adjust the sauce.
You'll need a large pot to cook the pasta and the broccoli rabe. You'll need a large pan to sauté the pasta before serving it. And you'll need a large, clean worktop to make the homemade orecchiette. To shape the orecchiette you'll just need a knife that is not pointy.
- Cook the pasta and cime di rapa in the same pot: by cooking the pasta in the same cooking water as the broccoli rabe, the pasta will be a lot more flavourful.
- The dough should NOT be sticky: if your dough is sticky you won't be able to shape the orecchiette. For this preparation it is better that you make a compact, hard dough, so that it won't stick when you shape it. If you have added too much water is not a problem. You can always add more durum wheat semolina flour while kneading till your dough doesn't stick anymore.
You can air-dry the orecchiette for 12 hours or overnight, then store them in a glass jar for a few weeks.
Alternatively, they can be frozen: place the orecchiette on a tray lined with parchment paper. Make sure to keep a certain distance between them when you line them up. Then, place the tray in the freezer for 2-3 hours. When the orecchiette are frozen, put them in a plastic bag and place them in the freezer. They will keep for 2-3 months.
If you have leftover orecchiette with the sauce, you can store them in a bowl in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Heat them up in a pan on medium heat with a dash of olive oil or with some water.
Orecchiette con cime di rapa - Italian Recipe
For the homemade orecchiette
- 250 g (1.5 cups) durum wheat semolina flour
- 140 g (0.6 cups) warm water you might need a bit more depending on temperature, humidity and altitude of where you live.
For the sauce
- 1 kg (35 oz) cime di rapa (not cleaned) also broccoli rabe, broccolini, or broccoli florets
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp soy sauce (this is used to replace the anchovies in the original recipe)
- 2 cloves garlic
- chili pepper to taste
- 1 pinch salt to taste
- In a bowl, add the durum wheat semolina flour. Then add the hot water and start incorporating the two, first with a fork, then with your hands.
- Transfer the dough onto a worktop and start kneading vigorously with your hands for about 10 minutes, or until you get a smooth dough ball. The dough should be quite compact and NOT sticky at all. If your dough is too sticky, then add more durum wheat semolina flour until is not anymore.
- Shape the orecchiette like shown in this video. NB: if your dough is too elastic and hard to shape, then let it rest for 20 minutes on your worktop, covered with a kitchen cloth. This way the gluten will relax, and the dough will be easier to work with.
- Then set them aside on a worktop covered with a thin layer of durum wheat semolina flour. You can now either let them dry for 12 to 24 hours and store them in a jar, or cook them straight away.
For the sauce
- If you have Italian cime di rapa, separate the leaves and the florets from the stems, wash them and set aside. If you use broccoli rabe or regular broccoli, then only use the florets and remove most of the stem.NB: For this recipe we don't use much of the stems, but you can save them for a vegetable broth or for a soup.
- Fill up half of a large pot with water and bring to boil. Add a handful of coarse salt and put in the leaves and the florets of the cime di rapa.
- Boil for about 5 minutes or until almost done. Then add the orecchiette. They'll cook in about 3 minutes if they are just made. They'll need a bit longer if they are dry. In any case, cook them until al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, in a large pan, add the oil, the soy sauce, the garlic, the chili and set on medium heat. When the garlic starts to fry, turn the heat off, and let cook with the residual heat of the pan.
- When the pasta and the broccoli rabe are ready, scoop them out of the water and add it to the pan with the sauce. Add a ladle of pasta water and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce.Stir gently on medium heat. Some of the cime di rapa should melt into the sauce and coat the orecchiette in a creamy dark and bright green sauce.
- Turn the heat off, let cool down for 1 minute, then scoop into plates and enjoy with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Will you be cooking this recipe at home? Let us know in the comments below or tag us on instagram @italianplantbased.