Orecchiette con verza e pancetta
Cavolo Verza is the Italian green cabbage that is most similar to the Savoy cabbage and not to be confused with Cavolo Cappuccio, or white cabbage. Verza has crinkly green leaves with prominent veins and is much softer and more delicate than white cabbage and therefore has a much shorter cooking time.
For those like me who grew up hating overcooked smelly winter cabbage many decades ago this is an entirely different thing altogether and another example of how Italians can create a delicious meal with just a few simple high quality ingredients.
This is yet another recipe that appears all over the internet in ghastly forms with unnecessary additions when, as is often the case, simple is best.
I was introduced to this dish 10 years ago, when the kitchen was still an unfamiliar place to me, by Silvestro Silvestori who runs probably the best cooking school in Italy, The Awaiting Table in Lecce, Puglia. This is his recipe that I cook many times during the winter months and needs no modification by me. As always, the cabbage should be fresh, the Italian olive oil top quality and the pancetta should not be smoked so regular bacon is not a good substitute.
Ingredients for 4 people:
500 grams orecchiette
One green cabbage
About 50 grams thinly sliced pancetta
Extra virgin Italian olive oil
Chili pepper flakes
Breadcrumbs or grated parmigiano reggiano
1. Discard the outer leaves and the inner white core of the cabbage, separate the leaves and wash them well.
2. Spread the pancetta across a large sauté pan and render the fat on medium heat (photo right).
3. Chop the cabbage leaves into thumbnail size pieces. (This part is key to the quick cooking time and to mixing well with the smaller size Pugliese pasta).
4. Once the pancetta fat has been rendered pour a little away if you feel there is too much.
5. Put the orecchiette into boiling salted water and add the cabbage to the pancetta pan on high heat.
6. Add salt and a sprinkling of chili pepper flakes to the cabbage and stir frequently adding olive oil and/or pasta cooking water as necessary.
7. After about 10 - 11 minutes with the pasta no more than al dente add it to the cabbage and mix well.
8. Serve with a generous pour of your best olive oil on the top. Scatter on the breadcrumbs or a grating of parmigiano reggiano. Cheese was never traditionally used in the cucina povera of Puglia where breadcrumbs were the typical substitute but this dish is claimed by many Italian regions where grated cheese is normal.