One of my favorite Italian dishes is light, healthy, pretty cheap, and quick to make. Can a dish be more perfect than this? Turnip greens orecchiette pasta, in Italian “orecchiette alle cime di rapa”, is a typical dish from the southern region of Puglia, Italy’s heel.
Being turnip greens in season from the fall, this is a dish that you can find after the summer through the winter. So if you are traveling to Italy in November and the following months, you have good a good chance to find it in restaurants’ menus, especially in Puglia.
If you happen in Bari after summer, make sure you visit the old town and Strada Arco Basso street, known also as “via delle orecchiette”. Here local women knead and shape the orecchiette pasta all day long sitting on a little chair right in front of their doorstep.
Traveling for Christmas? Check out what to expect in Italy in December!
History of “Orecchiette alle cime di rapa”
According to historical documents, apparently, the tradition of this orecchiette pasta dish with turnip greens is to be traced back to the Middle Age, during the Norman-Suevian occupation in southern Italy.
Probably to be located right in the Puglia region, this small circular pasta cut was left to dry so that it could last longer. It didn’t take long before the orecchiette pasta became popular also in other parts of Puglia and in the Basilicata region.
This type of pasta is perfect to match the creaminess of the turnip greens, a typical vegetable from southern Italy during the fall and winter seasons.
How to make turnip greens orecchiette pasta: ingredients and instructions
Turnip greens orecchiette pasta: Ingredients for 4 people
- 1 kg turnip greens. Raw, it will look huge. Don’t worry, after boiling, it will shrink and become small.
- 360 to 400 gr pasta. Traditionally, it’s the fresh ear-shaped orecchiette. If you didn’t find fresh pasta, use the dry one, totally fine. I suggest using a short type of pasta, not spaghetti, fettuccine, or tagliatelle.
- 1 clove of garlic. Slightly crushed but the whole clove, don’t chop it.
- 1 fresh red chili pepper. This is better fresh, but if you only have the dried crushed red pepper flakes in your pantry, that’s fine too. In this case, you can use 1 teaspoon or to taste.
- 4 to 5 anchovies preserved in oil. These are very salty so make sure you taste the sauce before adding more salt.
- 1 or 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil. To reproduce the Italian flavors, I wouldn’t replace olive oil with any other vegetable oil.
- Salt to taste.
Turnip greens orecchiette pasta: Instructions
- Thoroughly wash the turnip greens and separate the leaves from the hard stalks. Try to remove only the hardest parts of the stalks and leave some that you can cut in the middle. This way, you will have a more creamy result.
- While cleaning the turnip greens, put a pot full of water to boil. When it boils, add a generous pinch of coarse salt and cook the turnip greens for a few minutes, 3 to 5, until tender.
- In the meantime, heat up the olive oil with a clove of garlic in a skillet, paying attention not to burn the garlic. When the garlic starts turning golden, add the chili pepper and the anchovies. Little by little, the anchovies will melt. You can help them by gently mashing them with a fork.
- When the turnip greens are soft, drain them with a large skimmer and drop them in the skillet with the garlic, red chili pepper, and anchovies. Sauté everything until well mixed.
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions in the same water where you cooked the turnip greens for more flavor. Some people cook the pasta and the turnip greens together by adding the greens in the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time. This way, the result will be a little less creamy but still delicious. If you want to make it creamier, you can also add a spoonful of the cooking water and slightly blend the turnip greens drained and on the pan with an immersion blender. This is not traditional southern Italian practice but I don’t think anyone will feel offended if you do that!
- Drain the pasta when still al dente and place it directly into the skillet with the greens. Add also a ladleful of the water used to cook the pasta, now rich in starch.
- Stir everything over medium to high heat.
- Serve hot. According to the original recipe, it’s served without cheese on top. If you want to add some, dried ricotta is a good match.
Possible variations of the traditional recipe
Plant-based vegan version
If you are following a strict plant-based diet, you can remove the anchovies from your turnip greens orecchiette pasta dish. Some do it just because they don’t like anchovies in general, so no problem. In case you also want to add cheese, nutritional yeast is a perfect match, I use it myself and I find it blends well with this dish and its chili touch.
Adding some pieces of fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half when you are browning the garlic adds color and a lovely flavor to the dish.
Meat lovers will absolutely love adding some fresh sausage to the skillet when browning the garlic and the chili. Obviously, in this case, you won’t add the anchovies.
Let the sausage cook well before adding the turnip greens and then mix everything to blend the flavors.
Turnip greens are not in season or you can’t find them where you live? No problem, you can totally replace them with broccoli. Go over every step in the same way. If you are using broccoli, you can either cook them in the water just like I described for the turnip greens or gently cook them directly in the skillet with the garlic and the red chili before adding the anchovies.
If you don’t fancy anchovies, you can replace them with fresh sausages, which need to be well-cooked before you add the broccoli.