Orecchiette is a pasta specialty from the Puglia region – down in Italy’s southern “heel.” It’s one of the country’s flattest and most fertile regions, with wheat and olive oil produced in abundance.
This is where Stanley Tucci’s friend and writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge picked up the recipe for orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies. She discovered the dish on her honeymoon in Puglia and shared the recipe in “The Tucci Table: Cooking With Family and Friends.”
Orecchiette means “little ears.” This small oval pasta has a bowl-like indentation, traditionally made with the thumb, which helps collect the sauce. The dough is made of durum wheat and water.
The cooked pasta is tossed with cime di rapa, also known as broccoli rabe or “turnip tops,” a little oil, garlic, pepperoncini and preserved anchovies. The anchovies give the dish a salty accent.
What does Tucci think of Plunkett-Hogge’s orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies?
“I love it, though I probably prefer it a little less spicy than she does,” he said.
Orecchiette With Broccoli Rabe and Anchovies
Makes 6 servings
1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed
1 pound orecchiette
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
8 anchovies, drained and chopped
1 to 2 whole dried pepperoncini, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling water until just soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Scoop out the broccoli rabe with a slotted spoon, leaving the water in the pot, and refresh it under cold running water to stop the cooking. Once it has cooled a little, chop it into rough chunks and set aside.
2. Bring the pot of water back to a boil. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente.
3. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook to infuse the oil with its flavor. Do not allow garlic to color. Remove garlic from the pan and discard. Add the anchovies and pepperoncini and cook gently until the anchovies have dissolved into the oil. Then add the chopped broccoli rabe and cook everything together until heated through and well combined.
4. Drain the orecchiette, reserving a bit of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce. Add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water if it seems a little dry. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Adapted from “The Tucci Table: Cooking With Family and Friends” by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt. Copyright © 2014 by Stanley Tucci. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.