Orecchiette with beans, greens, garlic, and chili is one of my standby suppers. The pasta itself is fun to eat. The name translates to "little ears", but to me the pasta shells resemble little belly buttons, the central dimple of which is ideal for trapping the beans. Sometimes I use bitter broccoli rabe or Romanesco broccoli florets. Toasted Bread Crumbs may or may not go into the mix. Grated pecorino may garnish the dish. I've even been known to add crabmeat, steamed clams, shrimp, meatballs, or sausage to the basic mixture of beans, greens, and pasta. Simply put, this dish offers versatility in a bowl, satisfying in its simplest form and hospitable to other flavors.
Put the chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and then drop in the broccoli and cook until tender but not too soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and refresh in cold water to set the color. Drain and set aside. If using broccoli rabe, chop coarsely. Then drop the orecchiette into the same boiling salted water.
While the pasta cooks, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, if using, and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, and chickpeas and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, if using, and broccoli and cook until hot. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta when it is al dente and add it to the broccoli sauce, along with the toasted bread crumbs, if using. Warm through. Transfer to a warmed bowl and sprinkle with pecorino, if desired.
Toasted Bread Crumbs: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse 2 cups diced country-style bread, crusts removed, until you have coarse crumbs. Toss the crumbs in a bowl with 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, or olive oil; 1 teaspoon salt; and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Spread the crumbs on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 20 minutes. The crumbs can be stored in the pantry in a covered container for up to a month.
Recipe courtesy of Solo Suppers, Chronicle Books, 2003