Meet Rapa. He's deeply charming and stylish in the way that most Italians are. His extended family includes turnips, mizuna and pak choi. He stays low to the ground in a lush cover of glossy, jagged leaves from which sprout crowns of dainty yellow flowers. He's easy-going and versatile, pairing effortlessly with a flirty squeeze of lemon, a tease of chilli or the more robust and demanding flavours of garlic, pancetta and sausage.
Now let me introduce you to the people who set me up with Rapa. John and Aurora Luzzi have lived in the same tan-brick house in Sydney's Haberfield for 50 years. John, originally from central Italy, met Aurora, originally from Sicily, in Australia, and their formula remains successful – John grows fruit, vegetables, salad leaves, herbs and more in his bountiful garden and Aurora the alchemist turns them into dishes that speak generations of Italian tradition.
I've been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of Aurora's fennel-seed biscuits, fried artichokes and bottles of sweet, homemade passata handed over the fence, but when two bags of dark green, leafy cime di rapa were left on the doorstep, I had to go back for cooking advice.
Cime di rapa is a brassica with an earthy, bitter taste, but treat it just like silverbeet or English spinach and you will be fine. Here's my recipe for (going out on a limb here) the easiest pasta ever. For those who aren't fortunate enough to live next door to John and Aurora, you should be able to pick up a bunch from your local farmers' market or greengrocer.
Orecchiette with rapa
This is the easiest pasta recipe – the sauce is made in the time it takes the pasta
to boil. It's meat-free and deliciously satisfying, too.
Bunch of cime di rapa (or silverbeet), trimmed, leaves sliced
2 tbs olive oil
1 anchovy fillet in oil, drained1 garlic clove, sliced
Pinch of ground chilli flakes
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbs pine nuts, toasted
Freshly shaved Parmesan or fresh ricotta, to serve (optional)
Cook the rapa in a saucepan of boiling, salted water for 8-10 minutes until wilted, then drain.
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, then drain.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Cook the anchovy and garlic for 3-4 minutes until golden – don't let the garlic burn or it will become bitter. Add the rapa and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until soft. Stir in the chilli flakes and lemon zest and juice, then season.
Add the drained pasta to the frypan along with the pine nuts, and toss to combine well.
Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and top with an extra drizzle of olive oil and parmesan or ricotta, if desired.