SERVES 4 TO 6
Orecchiette, little ears, is an endearing name given to pasta from Puglia, the region at Italy's heel. The semolina-flour-and-water dough is still made by hand in many locales where small pieces of dough are rolled against the tip of a butter knife to form the traditional shape.
The classic accompaniment to orecchiette is cima di rape, a vibrant, bitter-tasting green, and the best I have ever eaten was at Ristorante Plaza in the beautiful city of Lecce. But Pugliese cooks concoct many combinations, including peppery arugula, chickpeas, and tomato sauce. In this recipe dandelion greens become a delicious partner to store-bought orecchiette.
Orecchiette are a thicker pasta, so the cooking time will be longer than for thinner forms.
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 1/2 pounds dandelion greens, washed well and stemmed
1/2 cup diced scallions
1 cup seeded and diced yellow bell pepper (one 8-ounce pepper)
1 small hot red or green pepper, seeded and diced, or 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
Grinding of coarse black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, to your taste
1 pound orecchiette
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the bread crumbs and "toast" the crumbs, stirring them in the oil until they are golden brown. Transfer them to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Set aside. Wipe out the sauté pan and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the dandelion greens, and cook, uncovered, for 6 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander; when cool, squeeze out as much water as possible, reserving 1/4 cup. Transfer the greens to a cutting board and coarsely chop them. There should be about 1 1/2 cups. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 1/3 cup of the olive oil in the sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the scallions and yellow and hot peppers and cook until the scallions look translucent and glazed. Stir in the garlic and dandelion greens and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the black pepper and salt and set aside off the heat.
Cook the orecchiette according to the directions. These will take a little longer to cook because of their thickness, so test occasionally for doneness. Drain the pasta and transfer to the sauté pan along with the reserved greens water.
Reheat the dandelion-and-orecchiette mixture, stirring quickly to combine everything well. Transfer the mixture to a serving platter. Sprinkle the bread-crumb-and-cheese mixture over the top and serve immediately.
Note: This is a spicy dish; adjust the amount of salt and hot pepper to taste.
This recipe is from MANGIA PASTA by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1998.
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