Serve this rustic pasta dish 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—just serve with bread and wine. The 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. Chickpeas are included whole; once puréed, they help thicken the sauce. A potful of boiling water also does double duty, blanching the greens and then cooking the pasta. By the time it’s done, the skillet sauce is ready.
Wine recommendations: Luccarelli 2001 Primitivo from Puglia has soft tannins, black fruit and spice notes, which will make peace with the bitterness of dandelion greens. Vallone 2000 Vigna Flaminio Rosso Riserva (from Brindisi DOC) is an elegant Negroamaro, Montepulciano and Malvasia Nera blend that harmonizes with the challenging flavors of this dish.
- 2-3 whole canned plum tomatoes with their juice (about 1 cup)
- 14-ounce can of 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*
- 1 pound orecchiette
- Crushed red pepper
- 2 cups ricotta salata, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons currants
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds
Combine the tomatoes and half of the chickpeas in a food processor bowl 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 heat until the mixture is barely simmering.
Meanwhile, combine 6 quarts water with 2 tablespoons salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook the dandelion greens a minute or two 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, drain, reserving about a cup of the water. Return the pasta to the saucepan 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.
*If you can’t find dandelion greens, substitute broccoli rabe.