Orecchiette con Cime di Rape (“little ears” pasta with rapini)
When we stayed in Italy, now more than a year ago (how time flies) I attended a private workshop at the home of the fabulous Elvira Zilli in Frascati, on the hills outside of Rome. The entire experience was one of the main highlights of the Italian adventure and I wrote about it in detail here.
We made many delicious dishes in that workshop and the underlying theme was pasta making. Elvira and her friend Elvidge who was helping with the class were both natural cooks and watching them making pasta was an eye opener. We of course dipped our hands in flour and made pasta dough and shaped it into shapes that I never thought I could ever do.
One of the dishes we made was orecchiete con cime di rape – little ears pasta with rapini – and needless to say we made the orecchiete ourselves from scratch. Who knew you could do that? However, when you see someone do it and try it yourself, it is really not that hard, although I am sure the Italians make it better than I.
The pasta dough for orcchiete is made without eggs: only “00” flour, water and a little olive oil. You don’t roll it in a pasta machine either. The dough is rolled into thin ropes that you then cut into small pieces and roll each with a tip of a dinner knife before inverting them over your thumb, rough side out. There are many youtube videos online with Italian Nonna demonstrating making orecchiette while their younger offsprings are taking a video of the process.
Orecchiette with rapini is a classic Italian dish that you can find in any Italian cookbook. The rapini is slightly bitter and if you wish to reduce that bitterness you need to peel the stem a little (so says Lidia Bastianich) and also blanch the cleaned rapini in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Apparently it takes away some of the bitterness. For myself, I can have it either way (blanched or not) but today I did both, peeled the stem and blanched it after. You can cook the orecchiette in the same water you blanched the rapini in if you wish (I did). Traditionally I believe that anchovy is added to the rapini, its saltiness is said to temper the bitterness. I kept the dish vegetarian and let the little anchovies go on swimming in peace.
Good orecchiette is readily available to buy dried. If you decide to make it yourself be sure to cut the rope of pasta dough into small pieces so that the orecchiette are not too large. Remember that pasta doubles in size once boiled and the orecchiette should be small and delicate.
Use good olive oil, a couple of garlic cloves, hot pepper flakes and sea salt to balance the strong flavours of the rapini.
8 oz orecchiette pasta (see below)
1 bunch rapini
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
A few hot pepper flakes
Parmigiano or grana padano
Trim the lower end of the stem of the rapini, then peel some of the thicker part starting at the bottom and working your way towards the flower.
Cut the rapini into pieces, about 3″ each roughly, leaving the flower end intact.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt.
Drop the rapini into the boiling water and cook for a minute or two just to blanch it.
Remove from the water and drain, squeezing out the liquid with your hands. Keep the water boiling in the pot.
In a large skillet heat the olive oil, add the garlic and cook until fragrant and beginning to turn golden but not brown.
Add the rapini and toss to coat with the oil.
Add salt and hot pepper flakes.
Drop the orecchiette into the boiling water and cook until done al dente. Dried pasta would take longer. Fresh pasta will only take a couple of minutes.
When the pasta is ready (it will float to the top) remove with a slotted spoon and add directly to the pan with the rapini.
Add a little oil and toss the pasta with the vegetables until combined and heated through.
Add salt to taste.
Serve immediately with plenty of parmigiano or grana padano.
200 gr “00” flour (I find that with pasta it’s best to go by weight)
1/3 cup water or as needed
A small splash of olive oil
Place flour on the counter and make a well in the center. Alternatively, you can start it in a bowl.
Pour water and a splash of the olive oil into the center and using a fork begin to mix the flour into the water. The flour may not absorb all of the water. Don’t push it as you don’t want too much water in the dough.
After kneading and gathering the dough with a fork begin kneading with one hand, gathering it and pulling it onto itseklf to create a more cohesive mass.
Once the water has been absorbed turn the dough onto the counter and begin kneading it, adding a dusting of flour if needed.
Knead for about 8-10 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth.
Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and let it rest on the counter for about 30 minutes.
To form the orecchiette divide the dough in 4 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time keeping the rest wrapped in plastic,
Roll the dough into a rope about 1/2″ thick, then cut it into pieces about 1/4″ long.
Working with one small piece at a time use the tip of a dinner knife with a rounded edge to press the orecchiette onto the surface (a wooden board is best) and then drag the knife towards you so the dough stretches, thins and curls around the tip of the knife.
Place your thumb at the edge of the knife and invert the dough onto your thumb, pulling the dough slightly over your thumb to create a deep indentation. The outside of the piece will be rough from the knife markings.
Continue forming the orecchitte with the remaining dough, dusting them lightly with flour to prevent them from sticking.
The orecchiette can be prepared in advance and kept on a loosely covered plate on the counter until needed