Orecchiette with Rapini and Roasted Squash, this is a dish packed with flavor from the sweetness of the squash to the subtle bitterness of the rapini, hosting wonderful textures and various dimensions of ingredient infusion.
Orecchiette with Rapini and Roasted Squash, a pasta coming to us from the southern part of Italy with its unique shape that hosts a duality of texture from the soft inside to the al dente edges. Pair that with some squash roasted and caramelized, and some wonderful sauteed rapini with its leafy earthy flavors and we have a winner!
Orecchiette is one of those pastas that you will never forget. Shaped like a little ear and that is what orecchiette translates to in English just that, "little ear". This pasta comes to us from the southeastern region of Italy. One would say it is the part of the heel known as Puglia.
Making them would take experience and patience that only a Nonna would know. For me there are so many memories of pasta making in my childhood. I cherish those days hearing my nonna and mom and dad talking up a storm sometimes in a heated passionate flurry and others times melodic and transposed in operatic song. I could hear the table squeaking as they were working the dough and flour was dusting the air. I would sit at a corner of the table with my chin on the wood board my father specially made for these occasions and study hand gestures, facial expressions and most of all the way they spoke. My parents grew up south east of Rome and at that time there where many dialects to the Italian language. My parents spoke an old tongue that today is slowly dissipating into the echoes of time, but one that I like to mimic from time to time.
Thanks to many wonderful pasta manufacturers, we are blessed to have these products available to us. Does it meet up with the truly authentic pastas found in those country sides of Italy, I would have to say no. There is something in the air of Italy that makes everything look better, taste better, and feel better. Maybe its the abundance of sunshine, or that volcanic soil, or the passionate people that exude pride for what their land provides, and speak with such vigor and lust for food that only leaves you wanting and passionate too! That being said, sometimes we are lucky and find some hidden gems in the Italian market.
This recipe was inspired by one found in Food Network magazine October 2016, Cook like a Star edition. Chef Anne Burrell created a recipe using Orecchiette with Pancetta, pumpkin and broccoli rabe. I loved the colors: orange from the pumpkin, deep green from the broccoli rabe and those wonderful little ears of pasta. I just had to try making this dish, and of course adding mine and Nicoletta's little twist to it.
A trip to the Italian Centre Shop was warranted, plus we always love the buzz of that place from the deli to the cafe where elders have heated discussions about politics and soccer. We had a squash from The Old Strathcona Farmers Market, another place we love frequenting. So all we need is the pasta orecchiette which we found multi colored, that will add beautiful colors, olive oil. We could not find broccoli rabe but this broccoletti, or rapini, will work just fine.
Let's get to cooking this Orecchiette with Rapini and Roasted Squash!
The squash is nicely seasoned and roasted to bring out and intensify the flavors. The rapini blanched in boiling salted water to tenderize the stems, then sauteed with the lardo and roasted squash adding and infusing yet another level of texture and taste to the mix. Lardo is something similar to pancetta but more fatty and aromatic due to the herb crust and salt it is cured in. It comes from the region of Tuscany, a town called Colonnata. The orecchiette cooked just a few minutes prior to being al dente as we will finish the cooking in the pan. Some nice olive oil in a pan and in goes the lardo, roasted squash and rapini. The orecchiette are added and tossed a bit and this dish is ready to plate.
The flavors of this dish are amazing, We have the orecchiette soft in the middle with that nice toothy bite on the edges. The roasted squash sweet fragrant and caramelized, mingling with the rapini and its juicy, earthy leafy taste, all brought together by that amazing pungent, herby, salt cure of the lardo and olive oil. To finish hits of aged parmigiano in all its glory and surprise crunches from the toasted pumpkin seeds. All in all a great dish to add to those always welcome pasta nights, well in our household anyway, lol.
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