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Savory Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe – Italian Pasta Delight

around 20 minutes. Cook
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Italian cuisine, renowned for its rich flavors and rustic charm, is a treasure trove of culinary delights. Today, we’re delving into a classic Italian recipe: Savory Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe. This dish is a testament to the simplicity and sophistication of Italian cooking, where the quality of ingredients takes center stage. Orecchiette, translating to “little ears” in Italian, is a small, ear-shaped pasta that beautifully cradles the flavors it’s paired with. The star of this dish, broccoli rabe, adds a slightly bitter, nutty dimension that contrasts perfectly with the pasta and seasonings. Let’s explore the history, preparation, and step-by-step instructions to create this Italian pasta delight.

Historical Context: The roots of orecchiette pasta can be traced back to the southern region of Italy, particularly Apulia. These small, concave pasta pieces were traditionally handmade by skilled Italian nonnas (grandmothers) who would deftly roll and shape them with their thumbs. The “little ears” are designed to capture sauces, making them a perfect match for the vibrant flavors of broccoli rabe.

Broccoli rabe, also known as “rapini,” belongs to the Brassica family, which includes broccoli and turnip greens. While it may resemble broccoli, it has a slightly bitter taste that adds a distinctive depth to various Italian dishes. It’s been a staple in southern Italian cooking for centuries, and its popularity has grown worldwide for its unique flavor profile.


1. Preparing the Broccoli Rabe:

  • Start by washing the broccoli rabe thoroughly under cold running water.
  • Trim the tough ends and any yellowing leaves, leaving the tender stems and florets.
  • Cut the broccoli rabe into bite-sized pieces.

2. Boiling the Orecchiette:

  • In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. You want it to be as salty as seawater; this will flavor the pasta beautifully.
  • Add the orecchiette pasta and cook according to the package instructions or until al dente.
  • Just a few minutes before the pasta is ready, add the broccoli rabe to the pot. This will blanch it and infuse the pasta water with its flavors.
  • Once the pasta is cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer the orecchiette and broccoli rabe to a colander, draining them well. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.

3. Sautéing the Flavors:

  • In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté for a minute or until the garlic becomes fragrant but not browned.
  • Stir in the blanched orecchiette and broccoli rabe.
  • Pour in the chicken or vegetable broth and toss everything together, letting the flavors meld.
  • If the pasta appears dry, add some of the reserved pasta water to create a light sauce. The starch in the pasta water helps bind everything together.

4. Season and Serve:

  • Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Remember to go easy on the salt if you’ve used a lot when boiling the pasta.
  • Sprinkle with grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese for a savory finish.
  • Serve your Savory Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe immediately, preferably in warm bowls to savor every delightful bite.

Conclusion: Savory Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe is a delicious tribute to the Italian tradition of simple yet bold flavors. The tender, earthy bitterness of the broccoli rabe plays harmoniously with the “little ears” of orecchiette, creating a pasta dish that’s both comforting and sophisticated. Whether enjoyed as a family meal or a delightful dinner party centerpiece, this recipe is sure to transport your taste buds to the sun-kissed hills of southern Italy. Buon appetito!


prep time
approximately 15 minutes.
cooking time
around 20 minutes.
4 servings.
total time
about 35 minutes.


  • Large pot for boiling pasta

  • Skillet or sauté pan

  • Slotted spoon

  • Tongs

  • Colander

  • Grater

  • Knife and cutting board


  • 12 ounces (340g) orecchiette pasta

  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe (about 1 pound or 450g)

  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to your spice preference)

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) chicken or vegetable broth

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, for garnish


Prepare broccoli rabe.
Boil pasta and blanch broccoli rabe.
Sauté garlic, red pepper flakes, and pasta.
Season and serve with cheese.
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