Thursday, May 19, 2011

Broccoli Rabe with Orecchiette and Bread Crumbs

During a wonderful meal at Barbacco, I fell in love with the beautiful handmade orecchiette tossed with bitter greens (cavolo nevo- Tuscan kale), pecorino, and bread crumbs. I loved the way the little orecchiette held the delightfully light sauce. Traditionally the dish comes with fennel sausage, which I hear is a magical combination with bitter greens.

After the wonderful meal, I knew I needed to make this dish at home because I needed to be able to eat it whenever I wanted, which would be all the time. Instead of kale, I turned to another bitter green that I fell in love with last summer in Italy- broccoli raab. Sauteed with garlic and red chili flakes, this bitter green popped up on menus and topped pizzas across Rome. Since returning from my trip, I've made broccoli raab as a side dish with olive oil, lemon, and garlic but until recently I had not found a main dish to showcase the distinctive bitter green.

Pairing the broccoli raab with garlic and chili flakes seemed natural. Finish with a squeeze or two of lemon and heaps of finely grated pecorino. Add fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil and the crunchy texture takes the dish to a whole new level.

This time I used green garlic in place of garlic because, as you know, I am always looking for ways to incorporate green garlic into dishes during its short lived season.

I know I've said this before, but I cannot emphasize how much better a dish will taste if you make bread crumbs at home. Simple tear up day old bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until coarse and not at all powdery. Toast bread crumbs in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown.

To reduce the bitterness, blanche the broccoli raab until tender. The olive oil, red chili flakes, garlic, lemon, and reserved pasta water all emulsify into a delicious, light sauce. Pecorino adds depth with its saltiness and the toasted bread crumbs add texture. If you don't want to blanch the greens, you can saute them with the olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes. Just throw a tablespoon of red wine vinegar in at the end to soften the bitterness.

Broccoli Raab with Orecchiette and toasted Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and slivered
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb broccoli rabe, trimmed and washed
1/2 lb orcchiette
kosher salt
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated pecorino (or parmesan cheese)
a squeeze or two of lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add kosher salt once boiling. Meanwhile heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmery, add bread crumbs and toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add broccoli raab and blanche for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well, and coarsely chop. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Once pasta is done, drain and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water. 

Meanwhile, in the same skillet as before, add remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Cook garlic until just fragrant, 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and after a minute, add 2 tbsp reserved pasta water and a squeeze or two of lemon.

Add broccoli raab and toss well with tongs, season with salt and pepper. Gently toss pasta in skillet with broccoli raab mixture, adding a tbsp of reserved water at a time if necessary. Adjust seasonings as needed. Transfer to serving bowl and top with toasted bread crumbs and freshly grated cheese. Pass additional cheese at the table.


  1. What kind of day old bread do you use for the breadcrumbs? I feel like a baguette would be too hard, but sandwich bread wouldn't work.

    Those pictures literally made me start aching with hunger!

  2. Reg- To make the bread crumbs, I use a sour batard because that is what I generally have on hand. The batard stays soft enough and doesn't become too powdery when processed. If I only have a baguette, I remove most of the hard crust before processing.


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