Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Award-Winning, Broccoli Rapini & Orecchiette with Gremolata

A classic Italian comfort dish!

Come on, 'fess up! You call them "hats?"

If you're from my neck of the woods, broccoli rapini & orecchiette...well, that's what's up! Okay, okay, I have a confession to make. We call it broccoli rabe & HATS. I know; it's a misnomer, or, to some, a misdemeanor. Technically, in Italian, "orecchiette" means little ears, not hats. Nope, not even close.  But, because of their shape, we, affectionately, call them hats.  Plus, hats has one syllable, and orecchiette has FIVE. You get where I'm going with this?  I hope I'm building a strong case here...

 Seriously, though, it wasn't until I studied Italian language in college, that I actually converted, myself, but for the record, I do, secretly, use the misnomer in certain company.  Although, I would not recommend doing this in the earshot of a native Italian, unless you want to be dealt a cross look. I'm kidding... a little bit.  Hey, it's a beautiful, romantic, melodic language, and they take it seriously. So, I respect that.

Pair with DaVinci Pinot Grigio
The flip-side to that coin, would be correcting an Italian American, Utican that says "hats," or truncates the vowel off the end of Italian words.  You'll be dealt the same cross look, in tandem with an eye-roll, which translates to, an unenthusiastic, "who cares."  So, I just go with the flow, and embrace the colloquialism when I need to. Hey, when in Rome...and in this case, Utica/Rome. Literally.

So, let's talk about orecchiette for a moment. It's a very, "toothsome" pasta form Puglia, Italy, and is usually made by hand, using a small, paddle-shaped tool, called la rasola. Orecchiette is, usually, (and best) purchased  fresh, but I found a descent quality, dry orecchiette at Whole Foods Market for just a couple bucks. It can be found at other specialty stores, and, surely, at your local salumeria, that should carry an abundance of imported,  high-quality Italian goods.

"Ehhh...What you talk?"

Angelina, an elderly Pugliese woman, that used to live downstairs from me at my old place in Brooklyn, always made her own fresh orecchiette using the rasola, and informed me that this particular broccoli rapini dish is, actually, a Roman dish, and it happens to be very popular  in the Southern regions of Italy. It's no wonder it is so popular in my hometown; most Italian families that emigrated to the Upstate NY area are from Italy's Southern regions. Even with this commonality, the dialects still vary from family to family, depending on the region.

If I dared to utter the misnomer, "hats," to Angelina, she would, no doubt, look at me sideways with a grimace, and mumble, "ehhh...what you talk?" Of course, she would mean this in the most lighthearted, humorous sense, as she was always jib-jabbing in the cutest way. But still, I kept this little, secret vernacular to myself. And, as Shakespeare once wrote, "a rose by any other name, is still a rose..." -so with that wisdom, let's put semantics aside, raise our glasses up, and mangiamo tutti! ~ let's eat everyone!


2 bunches of broccoli rapini (rabe)
homemade gremolata for topping
2 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of white wine (plus, more for drinking)
5 cloves of garlic (minced finely, or use garlic press)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
½ cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup of gremolata (see recipe below)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
1 pound of orecchiette pasta (or, cavatelli)


1 – 1 ½ cups of plain breadcrumbs (not Italian)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste (optional)
1 garlic clove (pushed though garlic press)
1 red hot cherry pepper (minced finely)*
¼ cup of fresh Italian parsley (chopped finely)
1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

*may use red pepper flakes instead


1.) Trim away about 3-4 inches of the broccoli rapini stems and rinse, thoroughly (the stems can be a bit fibrous).

2.) In a large sauté pan, on very low heat, combine olive oil, butter, minced garlic and hot pepper flakes. Sauté  for a few minutes so the garlic and hot pepper infuse the oil.

3.) Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the chicken broth and wine, then add the rinsed broccoli rapini. Cover and allow liquid to boil.

4.) Once liquid is boiling, turn down to a low simmer and allow broccoli rapini to steam down for about 15-20 minutes (turning every few minutes.) At this point, add salt and pepper, to taste.

5.) Meanwhile, to prepare gremolata, in a heavy-bottom sauce pan, on very low heat, add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy paste, and minced hot cherry pepper. Stir for about 2 minutes to infuse flavors in the oil.

6.)  Add about 1 cup of the bread crumbs, lemon zest, and parsley. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the oil mixture with the breadcrumbs. If the mixture is still too “oily,” just add a bit more breadcrumbs. After about 5 minutes (while stirring constantly) the mixture will be golden brown and crispy.  Add salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

7.) After about 20 minutes of the broccoli rapini simmering, add about ½ cup of the gremolata mixture and toss to incorporate. This will thicken the broth mixture, slightly.  Also, add the grated Pecorino Romano cheese and toss again. The broth should now have a little body to it.

8.) Prepare orecchiette in liberally salted water. Once pasta is cooked to el dente, drain and add pasta to the broccoli rapini, starting with one quarter of the pasta at a time. You may add as little, or as much, depending on your liking.  ( I did not add the entire pound, but that’s me..)   Allow pasta to cook a little longer in the mixture to pick up the flavors and blossom (about 5 minutes).

9.) Serve with more gremolata as topping, additional grated cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Buon Appetito!

May substitute cavatelli, or other short, toothsome pasta for the orecchiette, if you do not have orecchiette. Just do NOT use shells, or other flimsy pasta, as it will break in the dish. It NEEDS to be a sturdy pasta that can soak up the broth and infuse flavor into the pasta. You may use more broth, if you like the dish "soupier."  Also, optional ADD-INS: try adding prosciutto, or Italian sausage (already browned), or, toss a handful of  pine nuts in at the end.

A perfect Saturday lunch with DaVinci Pinot Grigio


  1. Time to make alter my shopping list! You just made my husband very happy.

  2. Just so you know, I will be purchasing HATS :)

    1. Hahahahaaaa...Oh, you Utican, you!! Buy those Hats!! :-)

      Hope you love this dish! -Cath

  3. Hi Cathi,

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    CEO & Founder of Grub Snapper

    1. Hello, Patrick.

      Thanks for stopping by and the invite! I created my profile, and I look forward to participating! Also, I liked your Facebook page, so I'll be checking that out, too!

      Thanks, again! Hope you have a great weekend!


  4. Hi,
    Its a nice blog and have much information. Thanks for the recipes...
    Online Wine

    1. Hello, Maarten! Thanks for stopping by! Come again soon!


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  7. Beautiful dish, and recipe sounds very tasty! I love your pics..so rustic and gorgeous! Got to try this soon...Thanks for the great post and have a lovely night!

    1. Hey, Sandy!! I don't know how I missed your gracious compliment? Anyhow, Thanks a million for stopping by and your sweet words. I do hope you make this dish! It's like a warm hug from Grandma!

      Hope you and your loved ones are having a beautiful holiday season!


  8. Hi Cathy, I made this recipe for my family the other day and they loved it. Definitely will make again. Reminds me of so many dishes we at growing up. Thanks for posting.


  9. If your a Utican stop by Napoli's Bakery on Bleecker Street and Culver Ave to get your orecchiette fix to cook with. I get them there homemade orecchiette frozen and make it with the rapini it is fantastic! Keep up the great work Cathy!