Vegan Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) with Orecchiette

My friend Ann is a terrific cook. She uses exciting, high quality ingredients and has a knack for putting flavors together. Years ago, she served Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) with Orecchiette, an Italian dish that blew me away. It’s been my favorite pasta dish ever since. Typically, I avoid pasta because most dishes are weighed down with heavy sauces. But this classic dish from Puglia, home of the vegetable lovers, is refreshingly light and healthy. It has a ton of nutritious Broccoli Rabe and adorable ear shaped pasta. If you are looking for a bright, healthy taste of Italy for your vegan and non-vegan friends, this is it!!

My husband is now the chef of this recipe and rather than use strict measurements, he eyes the proportions. This is where your chef di cucina can emerge.

What is Broccoli Rabe?

Broccoli Rabe (pronounced “Rob” although I say, “Rob-ay”), also known as Rapini, looks like a bundle of leafy broccoli. However, it’s not part of the broccoli family at all. This cruciferous leafy green is closer to mustard or turnip greens. It’s known for it’s bitter, pungent taste (think arugula) which is neutralized when blanched for 2 minutes.

Broccoli Rabe is a playful leafy green vegetable to add to your repertoire. According to Nutrition Expert, Keri Glassman, “Broccoli Rabe is loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, and also packs in minerals like calcium, folate, and iron. It’s also filled with water and fiber, which aids in digestion and keeps you  feeling fuller for longer, supporting healthy weight loss.

Orecchiette con cimi di rapa is one of Puglias most popular dishes. Some recipes use butter, anchovies or sausage (see recipe here) but this version is 100% vegan.

Italian vs. Italian-American Cooking

Italian food was never my favorite which worried me about going to Italy. But, to my pleasant surprise, I ate so well.

What we typically think of as Italian food – is not Italian!! It’s Italian-American… The difference can be described as harmony versus abundance. Italian food uses less garlic, less sauce, less meat and cheese and more vegetables (i-Italy).

Not only is the food fresh and high quality but eating in Italy is a sacred experience!  Italians don’t rely on take out, fast food, or home delivery. Instead, they cook their meals slowly, settle in, and enjoy a glass of wine together.

I love dining in Italy. You eat real food in the comfort of real people.

A Lunch to Remember

On my most recent trip to Italy, a group of us stopped for lunch at Da Roberto, a small taverna in the sweet hill town of Montisi.

Roberto, the chef and owner greeted us and showed us to lovely table on the patio overlooking the garden. Another group followed us in without a reservation. We overheard Roberto question them to see if they were acceptable patrons (reservations are required). We all sensed we were in for a unique experience. He accepted the party and shared his philosophy.

“Every morning I wake up happy to build a space of peace, balance and harmony to offer people who like to come to my Taverna…..I appreciate people for what they are willing to share of their minds and hearts. The visible sign of money makes very little impression on me”. — Roberto Crocenzi

Everything is made from scratch with the highest quality ingredients. Prior to each course, Roberto lovingly shared the origin of each ingredient as if he were speaking of favorite relatives. The name of the cow that produced the milk for the creamiest Ricotta, the farm outside of Rome with the juiciest peaches in Italy, the local organic wine produced by his friend down the road, etc. Then he disappeared into the kitchen.

He emerged with beautiful family style dishes and charmed us with knowledge. We were so engaged, we lost track of time and 4 hours slipped by making us late for our villa arrival. But, this is Italy and lunch with Roberto, was an affair to remember!

(Read Roberto’s philosophy here – continue reading after the menu).  

Recipe: Vegan Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

My husband has prepared this dish many times but always “eyes it”. These measurements are the best I could get from him so please use it as a guide and let your inner Italian chef come through.

The recipe feeds 4 with a good chance of leftovers. Serve it as a hearty side with a simple salad (and/or sausage for the meat eaters). The recipe calls for a healthy amount of olive oil which keeps the vegetables from sticking and pulls the flavors together. It makes great leftovers.

Serves 4-6
45 minutes to prepare


  • 3-4 bunches Broccoli Rabe washed and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup Olive oil (more if greens clump together)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 2 leeks (white parts) or 2-3 shallots chopped
  • ½ lb Orecchiette (typically half a bag)
  • 2-3 teaspoons good quality salt
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes


  1. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a large pasta pot (preferably a steamer pot). Add broccoli rabe to the steamer basket and steam/blanch for 2 minutes. Promptly remove broccoli rabe and rinse with cold water. (Alternatively remove with a slotted spoon into a colander).
  2. Fill the pasta pot with water (keeping the broccoli rabe water) until 3/4 full. Add salt, cover and bring to a boil. Add Orecchiette and cook according to package until al-dente (usually 9-12 min).  Drain and set aside (do not run under cold water).
  3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat and cook the leeks (or shallots) for 7 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and cook for 2 minutes more.
  5. Fold in broccoli rabe and additional olive oil and cook for another minute or so.
  6. Mix in the pasta and taste. Add extra olive oil or pasta water (if greens are sticking) and salt and pepper to finish.

Notes: This makes a lot of greens so use a large frying pan or wok.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *