Domenico went to Bari last week to visit his mom for a few days. As so often happens, he came home with fresh orecchiette. Made by one of the women living in the old part of town, Bari Vecchia, they were coin-sized little ear shaped forms piled into a big paper bag.
Like any good Barese wife, my first thought was to make orecchiette con cime di rapa. The only problem was that Domenico had somehow forgotten to bring a bunch of this pugliese green back with him. Since it’s not quite the season yet for the Roman version of broccoletti , I decided to make do with what I had.
The one thing I love about the traditional recipe for orecchiette con cime di rapa is that the greens get cooked in the same pot as the pasta. Not only does this mean one less pot to clean, it also gives a wonderful depth of flavor to the pasta itself.
I took this idea, and just made a few substitutions. Instead of cime di rapa I used cavolo nero (Tuscan kale). And since I was throwing convention to the wind, I used pancetta and leeks instead of traditional anchovies and garlic.
The result was, of course, fantastic. I mean, once you start out with great pasta and add pancetta and leeks to the mix, what can go wrong? The biggest surprise though, was how much I loved the taste of boiled cavolo nero. I never think of boiling this vegetable, preferring to either roast it, or just saute it. But let me tell you, boiled is a good way to go, especially when paired with pasta, pork and leeks.
Domenico not only loved it, he said it was one of the best pastas he’d ever had. And this coming right on the heals of a trip down to his own mama’s cooking. I must be doing something right.
- 1 bunch of kale (about 1 pound/ 500gr cleaned)
- 100 gr pancetta, cut into ⅛ “ cubes
- 2 chopped leeks (about 1 cup)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ¾ tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 500 grams/ 1 pound fresh orecchiette
- grated pecorino cheese
- Using your hand, strip the kale leaves off the tough stems. Discard the stems and roughly chop the leaves.
- Pour the olive oil into a saute pan big enough to hold the pasta later. Heat over medium flame and add the pancetta. Cook until it has given up its fat and has begun to brown at the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the leeks to the pan, along with the salt and pepper, and cook gently for about a half hour until the leeks are very soft, but not browned. Add the pancetta cubes back in and continue to cook for about ten minutes more.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the orecchiette. After 7 minutes, add the chopped kale. Cook until the orecchiette are done.
- Drain the pasta and kale, reserving a cup of the water.
- Add the pasta and kale to the leek mixture, stirring over medium heat. Add some of the pasta water, stirring, to mix everything well and let the flavors absorb.
- Serve topped with grated pecorino.
The dishes in these photographs are from Sberna, in Deruta and were given to me by them.