Orecchiette alla barese
In the seaside town of Bari down in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, the orecchiette makers are out in force every morning, lining the stone-paved streets of vecchia Bari, the oldest part of this very old town. With quick, deft gestures, these ladies shape dabs of durum-and-water dough by hand into orecchiette (the name means “little ears”), small, thumb-print pasta shapes that are then set out to dry in the open air on big wooden trays. Shoppers passing by on their way home from the market make their selection, buying orecchiette by the kilo for the family lunch.
Alla barese, in the Bari style, always means this favorite preparation, made with the spicy greens called broccoli rabe or rapini in America, a little garlic, a pinch of chili pepper, and a few anchovies for the salt. Broccoli rabe is widely available in supermarket produce sections, but if by chance you can’t find it, you may substitute another pungent autumnal green such as mustard greens, collards or even Chinese broccoli. Patience Gray, who lived for many years in the Salentino, the tip end of the heel of the Italian boot, told us that cooks there sometimes made a similar dish using wild foraged arugula, but in that case they added a handful of pungent local cheese, grated on top.
Packaged orecchiette are easy to find, but you could substitute farfalle, conchiglie (small shells), or fusilli (corkscrews).
Clean the broccoli rabe, discarding any wilted or yellowing leaves along with the tough part of the stems. Chop the broccoli rabe into pieces about 1 inch long. Rinse thoroughly and set aside.
Bring about 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot.
While the water is heating, prepare the garlic-anchovy sauce: Add the chopped garlic to the oil in a small skillet and cook over gentle heat just until the garlic bits are soft. Stir in the anchovy pieces and use a fork to crush and mash them into the hot oil. Add the chili pepper and stir. Remove the skillet from the heat—but warm it again just to the sizzling point before pouring it over the pasta.
Add salt and the pasta to the rapidly boiling water, and cook until al dente. Orecchiette will take 12 to 15 minutes to become al dente.
Halfway through the cooking time, add the broccoli rabe to the pasta and stir to mix well. Continue cooking until the pasta is done—the broccoli rabe should cook just 5 to 6 minutes, so time it according to pasta package directions.
Reheat the garlic-anchovy-chili oil over medium-low heat.
When the pasta is done, but still a bit al dente, drain the pasta and greens and turn immediately into a warm serving bowl. Stir to distribute the greens throughout the pasta, then pour the garlic-anchovy-chili oil over the top. Toss again, adding a little more olive oil if you wish; add a generous amount of ground pepper, and serve immediately.
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From The Four Seasons of Pasta. Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins, 2015.