Legendary Dishes | Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa / Broccoli e Acciughe (pasta with turnip tops / broccoli and anchovy)


This ear-shaped coin pasta, associated with Bari on Italy‘s east coast and made in Naples using the Gragnano method, accompanies the sauces the people of the peninsula keep to themselves. One such sauce is anchovy and garlic flavoured vegetables in olive oil. Originally made with turnip tops, gradually the recipe evolved to include other vegetables, particularly broccoli. The amount of olive oil seems at first excessive but it is necessary to absorb the broccoli, cling to the orecchiette and hold the cheese. Fresh broccoli should be used. If the stems are tough, therefore fibrous, peel them. This is a melt-in-the-mouth experience that does not work with chewy vegetable fibres. In their delightful book, A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti, Donna Leon and Roberto Pianaro describe the process of making home-made orecchiette and issue a warning:

‘Unless a person is born within half an hour‘s drive of the city of Bari, they should not attempt tomake orecchiette by hand. These dear little pasta pieces are a specialty of the region, and are made from a mixture of white flour and Apulian hard wheat flour to which no egg is added. The process of making them by hand involves mixing the two types of flour with salt and then gradually dribbling in water until the dough is malleable and neither too wet nor too dry.‘

To find out why and what happened when they tried to make it you will need to consult the book. Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano, describes a scene in one of his novels that has the commissario so overwhelmed by the aroma of the mingling anchovies and broccoli that he forgets his task and partakes of the meal. An indication that this exquisite dish is popular throughout Italy, a rare achievement.

  • 1 kg broccoli / calabrese whole stalks
  • 500 g Gragnano orecchiette
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 100 g anchovy fillets
  • 50 g parmigiano cheese, grated
  • 50 g pecorino cheese, grated
  • 15 g black pepper
  • 10 g peperoncini flakes (optional)
  • Salt, pinch 

Trim ends from broccoli stalks, leave heads whole. Boil broccoli, flower heads up, in a large covered pot of salted water, stems in, heads out of water. Remove to a large soup plate when the stems are al dente. Cut stalks into small pieces, leave flower heads whole. Cook pasta, about 20 minutes, drain. Heat oil in a large wide frying pan, sauté garlic for five minutes, add anchovies followed by the broccoli stalk pieces, season and cook for five minutes. Add broccoli heads and pasta into the mixture, leave to rest for five minutes, dress with cheese.