Orecchiette with Broccoli
This recipe comes from Italy's Deep South, Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot, and source of some of the tastiest (and least known) foods in the country. More fertile and abundant than other impoverished southern regions, Apulia is the source of outstanding vegetables and a unique and undervalued vegetarian cuisine.
Orecchiette are small, handmade pasta shapes formed from hard durum wheat, water, a little salt, and nothing else. They are, I've always told the kids, actually boys' ears (well, they couldn't be girls' ears, could they. Too tough). In Apulia, this pasta might be enjoyed with cima di rape or turnip tops, but we find it delicious with broccoli, stewed slowly in olive oil with the addition of a little dried peperoncino to spice it up. Broccoli, incidentally, is considered one of the super-foods, a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that is reputed to be a good protector against many forms of cancer. But we enjoy this pasta simply because it tastes so good.
Apulia, once the source only of high-alcohol bulk wines destined for blending, is now producing high-quality table wines that are outstanding value. Try this pasta dish with a bottle of Cosimo Taurino's deep, rich Salice Salentino.
1 lb broccoli
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
A generous dollop of extra virgin olive oil
A ladle or two of chicken or vegetable stock or broth
dried peperoncino or a fresh chopped chili pepper to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb orecchiette
Separate the flowerets of broccoli, and boil in salted water until just tender. Drain. Meanwhile, heat up a generous dollop of good extra virgin olive oil in a wok or frying pan, and saute the garlic gently. Add the drained broccoli, season with the peperoncino, salt and pepper, then turn the heat to low, and allow to stew slowly. The broccoli should break up and almost become a vegetable paste, mixed with the olive oil, garlic and peperoncino mixture. If the mix becomes too dry, then add a ladleful or two of chicken or vegetable stock. Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain, then add to the pan with the vegetable mixture. Turn flame to high, toss well, then serve immediately with more peperoncino added to taste.
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