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Orecchiette with Cavolo Nero

Taking inspiration from Puglia, this Italian pasta dish features orecchiette. From Rick Stein, the recipe brings together cavolo nero, anchovies and chillies.


I have a life-long enthusiasm for watching people making produce by hand, swiftly and deftly as if it was the simplest thing in the world. Peeling shrimps, picking crabs, filleting tuna, throwing sheets of filo pastry across a table. I absolutely know I can do it just as easily, which is not quite how it turns out. So it is with orecchiette, the round, fingertip-shaped pasta from Puglia, whose name means ‘little ears’. For five minutes I watched it being made and it seemed so easy. You roll the pasta dough into a long rope, cut a tiny slice off the end, then pull it away at the same time as pushing your finger into the centre, to make a perfect little ear every time. It doesn’t always work, but this dish certainly does: pasta with garlic, olive oil, anchovy, a dash of chilli and some cavolo nero, purple sprouting broccoli or the traditional turnip tops (crime de rape). The object is to cook the greens with the pasta, then drain both and toss with the oil and anchovy mixture. In Italy they put a dash of the cooking water in with the pasta and toss everything together vigorously. The result is a pleasingly emulsified sauce.

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500g dried orecchiette pasta
500g cavolo nero, turnip tops or young purple sprouting broccoli
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ tsp crushed dried chillies
6 anchovy fillets in olive oil
Freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Bring 4.5 litres water to the boil in a large saucepan with 8 teaspoons salt. Meanwhile, trim any large stalks from the cavalo nero and cut any large leaves into approximately 10-cm pieces.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 12 minutes. Four minutes before the pasta is cooked, add the cavolo nero to the pan and cook for the remaining time, until the greens are tender and the pasta is al dente.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes into a large deep frying pan and place over a medium heat. As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle, leave it to cook for a few seconds and then add the anchovy fillets and break them up with a wooden spoon until they have ‘melted’ into the oil. Remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta and cavolo nero and just before all the water has drained off them, add them to the frying pan and toss together well. Place over a high heat and shake around for a few seconds until the cooking liquid still clinging to the pasta and leaves has amalgamated with the oil and the cooked leaves to create a sauce. Divide between warmed bowls and serve sprinkled with some pecorino or parmesan cheese if you wish.

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