Orecchiette With Beetroot Leaves

This recipe is based on is the classic Pulgian dish Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa which involves turnip tops and pasta being coated in an sauce made with absurd amounts of garlic, anchovies and olive oil; the reason I like it so much is because it’s such a great example of Southern Italian cucina povera, cheap preserved ingredients combine to form something that works as a whole far better than you would ever expect from looking at the components individually.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen turnip tops for sale in Ireland meaning I had to improvise; the standard substitution is broccoli (purple sprouting in particular) but I had loads of leaves left over from my bargain beetroot purchase (which ended up featuring it four meals over the week, not bad for €2!) on Moore Street so I decided to use them. Moreover, given the roots of the original I like the thriftiness of using a part of the vegetable that would often be thrown away by many people. Another great thing about this is you can easily follow the seasons and have it all year round: chard in autumn, kale or cavolo nero in winter and spinach or, as mentioned, broccoli in spring.

Beetroot Leaves

Something to be careful of is the amount of salt when boiling the pasta, not only because of the capers and anchovies in the sauce but also the pecorino (the traditional grating cheese in the south of Italy) as it’s much saltier than Parmesan. The lemon juice acts as a counterpoint to this so don’t leave it out. Finally, I’ve found orecchiette quite easy to overcook: monitor them closely for the last few minutes and take them out while they’re still a slight bit chewy.

Orecchiette With Beetroot Leaves

Serves: 4

80ml olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely crushed
5 anchovies
5g capers, finely chopped
2.5g dried chilli flakes
200g beetroot leaves, roughly chopped
500g orecchiette
5ml lemon juice
Pecorino cheese


  1. Put a large pan over a low heat and add half the oil.
  2. Add the garlic, anchovies, capers and chilli and fry on the lowest possible heat for 5-7 minutes. Mash the anchovies as much as possible so that they completely dissolve.
  3. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions (12-15 minutes, usually).
  4. 2-3 minutes before the orecchiette is finished add the beetroot leaves.
  5. Drain the pasta and combine with the anchovy sauce.
  6. Add the rest of the olive oil and the lemon juice and stir thoroughly.
  7. Divide amongst the plates and top with a generous grating of pecorino.


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