Think of Puglia – the deep southern ‘heel’ of Italy – and you expect blue skies, warm sunshine, sunbleached beaches and shimmering olive groves. So it came as a bit of a surprise, when we were there recently, to be greeted by strong winds and a rain-lashed landscape. The usual white beaches and blue seas were decidedly grey and empty. But there’s always a silver lining (well, usually there is), and on this occasion it was the opportunity to try one of the region’s classic dishes – orecchiette con cime di rapa. Orecchiette is a dried pasta commonly served in Puglia, shaped like little ears, hence the name. Cime di rapa are turnip tops…doesn’t sound very inspiring, does it, but believe us this simple pasta dish is truly delicious.
Traditionally the pasta is cooked in the water in which the vegetables have been boiled, and the dish is finished with olive oil, garlic and chilli. If you want to be truly authentic, you can get seed to grow your own cime di rapa (which is actually a maincrop broccoli derived from the turnip family) from these guys. You can eat it raw in salads as well as cooked. Otherwise, maincrop or purple sprouting broccoli makes a perfectly good alternative. There are many versions of the recipe – here’s an especially simple but tasty one.
For four people, you need about a kilo of broccoli and 500g of orecchiette. Cut the broccoli into pieces and add it to plenty of boiling salted water. Cook for a few minutes and then add the orecchiette to the same pan and cook together until done (follow the pack instructions, but check the pasta a minute or two before the stated time). Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, gently sauté 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped fresh red chilli and 4 drained anchovies in a good glug of olive oil (be generous) until soft, but not browned. When the pasta and broccoli are done, drain and add to the garlic and chilli, stirring to coat thoroughly. Serve sprinkled with grated pecorino or toasted breadcrumbs.
Now, sit back and relax and imagine that warm Puglian sunshine. That’s what we did.