This rustic dish captures the Southern Italian delight in balancing assertive flavors: the bitterness of dandelion greens, heat of crushed red pepper, sharpness of ricotta salata, and subtle sweetness of currants. Serve as a first course, if you like, but bear in mind that it’s nutritionally well balanced enough to make a great one-dish meal.
The big, fruity profile of a Negroamaro from Southern Italy is needed to temper the bitterness and spice of this pasta dish; recommended producers include Tormaresca, Taurino and Vigne & Vini.
2 to 3 whole canned plum tomatoes with their juice (about 1 cup)
1 can (14 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
4 slices (about 1/3 cup) pancetta, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
Kosher or sea salt
1 bunch dandelion greens, stemmed, or broccoli rabe.
1 pound orecchiette
Crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups crumbled ricotta salata
2 tablespoons dried currants
1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds, toasted
Combine the tomatoes and half of the chickpeas in a food processor with 1 cup water; process until smooth.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and pancetta, stirring often, until lightly browned. Add the rest of the chickpeas and cook a minute or two longer. Stir in the puréed chickpea mixture. Reduce the heat until the mixture is barely simmering.
Meanwhile, combine 6 quarts water with 2 tablespoons salt in a large pan. Bring to a boil. Cook the dandelion greens a minute or two just until limp; remove with tongs and cool under running water. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring well. While it cooks, roughly chop the dandelion greens (makes about 2 packed cups). Stir the greens into the chickpea sauce. Add salt and crushed red pepper to taste.
When the orecchiette are al dente, reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid, then drain. Return the pasta to the pan and mix in the sauce, adding pasta water as needed for a saucy consistency. Stir in half of the ricotta salata and all of the currants. Spoon the pasta into shallow soup bowls, and sprinkle the remaining ricotta salata and the pine nuts on top. Serve at once.