Chances are, you have seen recipes for broccoli di rabe, a bitter green of the broccoli family, many many times.
Perhaps you have had this delicious vegetable, sauteed with garlic and oil, and other aromatics..or stuffed into
a bread, or paired up with pasta, tradtionally orecchiette (little ears). This pasta hails from the once dirt poor
regions of Puglia and Basilicata and is merely a mix of flour and water and some deft finger handling. In our
family, years ago, my Grandmother and her sister in law Caterina Luberto (Zi’Caterin) would spend what seemed
like hours making a cavatelli like orecchiette like pasta and I would stare mesmerized by their quick hand
movements. I wish I was older and had paid more attention to the intricacies of this pasta production. Most
supermarkets now carry the factory made orecchiette which is made with the typical pasta recipe used in
most dried macaroni. It’s good…but not great. The real texture and flavor is from the Bronze pressed Artisinal
or the handmade(best) dried orecchiette from Italy. The bronze pressed I buy when I can’t find the handmade
ones. Handmade are more rustic in their shape and texture..the bronze ones are delicious…OK, what are
bronze pressed pastas? The pasta dough is forced through a special bronze press which roughs up the
exterior of the pasta. This way, the sauces adhere much better to each piece. Pricey, yes. How often are you
eating orecchiette..??? I knew it. So splurge at the specialty Italian store for a lb. of good orecchiette. Or
you can find them thru on-line sources. They usually retail for between 3.99 to 6.99.
Feeling like I was bored with the
usual pairing of sauteed rabe with sausage and orecchiette…I improvised and altered the ingredients..but did
not “change” the ingredients.
Ecco la! There is the change-up. I chopped up the broccoli
rabe and added 1/2 of it to sweet fennel sausage meat making meatballs out of them…sauteed them..
then sauteed the rest of the rabe with garlic and oil, a little red chile pepper flakes, then tossed in the pasta and
let it get sort of brown on the edges. Then added the meatballs and there you have it.
For 6-8 people, use 1 lb. of Orecchiette….cook according to directions, and drain.
Remove the meat from 1 lb. of good Italian Sweet Fennel Sausage in its’ casings. Add to a bowl. Add a 1/2 cup
of grated provolone or pecorino, 1 finely minced garlic clove, and 1/2 a bunch of well chopped steamed broccoli
rabe. Try to not use much of the stem, stick with the tender thinner parts and the leaves. Add 1/2 tsp. black
pepper. NO SALT! Remember, the sausage is already salted. Now add 2 tbs. of breadcrumbs and with your
hands blend well and form into small walnut sized balls. In some good olive oil, fry these on medium for about
7 minutes on one side, 5 on the other..You are cooking these all the way through.
Let’s stop right here with another idea.
Party season is on its’ way…Holidays and all that (stress and/or fun)…make these as an hors d’ouevres instead
of the usual party meatball. Sprinkle them with a little cheese and serve with toothpicks or on a platter..nice!
Ok…sorry for the detour…Add some olive oil to a large pan, heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp. of red
chile flakes..stir for 30 sec. then add the remaining chopped broccoli rabe…stir then add the pasta and mix
well. Let the pasta get a little brown in some spots..this should take about 5 minutes. Sitr well, add 2 tbs. of
grated cheese and serve with the meatballs on top.
Check out those crispy edges on the orecchiette…the different flavors and textures in this dish make it
very satisfying. At the end of the day, I’m feeling good about changing the look of a recipe to make
it a little (or very) different yet staying loyal to the traditional taste and ingredients. No, you cannot use
turkey sausage,,, no you cannot use spinach…no you cannot use Bowtie pasta. Stick with the com-
bination that has worked for years and years…Maybe someday I’ll remember Zi’Caterin’s pasta