Orecchiette pasta, made with turnip greens, is a traditional dish from Puglia, notably the city of Bari. In Puglia, this special dish has several names, but the most common ones are recchie or recchietelle, meaning “small ears” because that’s what their shape resembles.
This simple, flavorful, and hearty dish comes from a peasant tradition; it blends rustic and strong flavors into an unbelievably tempting dish. You must really cook this if you want to fully experience the food culture from Puglia, the region called the “heel” of the Italian boot. Give it a try.
This pasta dish, common throughout Puglia, can be paired with turnip greens as well as with broccoli or tomato sauce. Since turnip greens are not available all year, you may use broccoli rabe, or rapini in Italy. They are similar in taste. Or better yet, look for Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan), which is common in Asian grocery stores in the US.
What are turnip greens?
Turnip greens refer to the dark leafy green tops from turnips. They are very rich in fiber, iron, potassium, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin A and are a good source of antioxidants.
Orecchiette is easy to make
Orecchiette is a fresh or dry pasta made from durum wheat flour and is well known and appreciated all around the world. Its curved shape pairs wonderfully with all kinds of sauces. Fresh orecchiette pasta takes about 5 minutes to cook, a little longer if it is dry. Just follow the cooking time on the package, but taste it before draining. This is a good practice with any pasta you are cooking.
What is the secret of this dish?
Actually, the secret to this dish is cooking the vegetables with pasta. With a little practice and some knowledge of the main ingredients, you can make this dish. I am here to help you.
In the past, poor farmers and peasants could not afford cheese, which was very expensive. They replaced it with toasted bread crumbs, which they pretended were cheese and which is why they’re still in the recipe.
- 1 lb of fresh or dry orecchiette (450g)
- 1/2 lb of turnip greens (leaves and floret) (225g)
- 50 gr of breadcrumbs
- 1 whole red chili pepper, either Fresno or Anaheim
- 1 clove of garlic
- 3 salt- or oil-packed anchovy fillets, or 2 tsp of a black olive paste (made from Ligurian olives would be the best one)
- Coarse and fine salt
- 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- Clean the turnip greens: discard the external larger leaves and the stalks. With the help of a sharp knife, remove the soft leaves and the florets;
- Properly rinse them under running water, dry them, and put them aside;
- Fill a large stockpot with plenty of salted water and bring to a boil;
- When the water boils, add the turnip greens and cook for 5 minutes;
- Toast the breadcrumbs until golden over medium heat in a pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil;
- Rinse the anchovies under running water to wash off the salt and oil;
- In another pan heat the remaining oil, add the red pepper flakes, the unpeeled garlic clove, and the anchovy fillets. Sauté over medium-low heat; otherwise; the high temperature will make the oil and the anchovies bitter. Simmer it very very slowly;
- Stir with a wooden spoon until the anchovy fillets have melted; Cook for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and discard the garlic. If you are vegan, you can add black olive paste as a substitute for the anchovy;
- After the turnip greens have cooked for 5 minutes, add the orecchiette and follow the cooking time on the package; stir gently.
- When done, drain orecchiette with the turnip greens; remember to save a scoop of cooking water: you may need it in case the sauce gets too thick. Pour them into the pan with the anchovy sauce;
- Sauté gently and season with salt;
- Taste it and see if it needs some more oil;
- Remove it from the heat, place the orecchiette in bowls, and top with a drizzle of olive oil and the toasted breadcrumbs. This is a special dish that you must share with your family;
- If you have any leftover, orecchiette with turnip greens lasts in the fridge for up to a day.