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Orecchiette and Broccoli Rabe Pesto Con Il Pollo

Orecchiette (pronounced OR-REK-I-ETTE) is a type of home-made pasta, reflective the charm of Apulia, a region of Southern Italy from where it originated. Its name comes from its shape, which is reminiscent of a small ear. In Italian, orecchio, means ear, the ette means small. One serving of this ear shaped pasta comes in at 200 calories with zero grams of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, making this a low-fat, heart healthy pasta. However, as we all know, it is often the sauce and ‘toppings’ that add significant fat and sodium to pasta dishes.

The pesto sauce, which is mixed into this pasta dish, consists of broccoli rabe, skim-milk based cheese, and olive oil. Broccoli rabe is a member of the brassica genus of plants and is related to cabbage, kale, cauliflower and mustard. Even though the word broccoli is commonly used in its name, it’s not the same plant as the floret-headed vegetable that is most familiar to Western (North American) cuisine.

Broccoli rabe is highly nutritious and contains many of the same beneficial cancer-fighting elements as its cruciferous relatives. It is high in phytochemicals, such as sulforaphane and indoles, which are believed to help the body defend itself against certain cancers. It has a mere 20 calories per one cup raw, 3 grams of protein, 72 mg of vitamin C, and 7.6 mg of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. It is also a good source of vitamin K, as well as potassium, essential to blood and heart health. When combined with pistachio nuts, a blend of skim cheeses, and olive oil, the broccoli rabe is made into a light pesto that will have diet conscious pasta lovers wanting more!

Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 12 min
4 servings


  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, tough lower stems removed
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, toasted
  • 2 tbsp. grated skim parmigiano – for garnish
  • Kosher salt (“lightly”)
  • 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound orecchiette pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
  • 1/2 cup chicken (‘pollo’) – grilled, sliced, skinless breast or thigh – optional


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Set up a bowl of well-salted ice water. Cook the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and then immediately plunge in the salted ice water. This will prevent the broccoli rabe from being overcooked and will set the lovely green color.

Drain the broccoli rabe and squeeze out any excess water; coarsely chop. Place the broccoli rabe in the bowl of a food processor and puree until it is a coarse paste. Add the pistachios and Parmigiano and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the ricotta and pulse until combined. Taste for seasoning once again. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. (If you are making the pasta right after the pesto, just use the broccoli rabe blanching water.) Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the cooking time on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, place the pesto in a large skillet and add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water; place over medium-high heat. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the skillet with the pesto. Stir vigorously to combine and cook until the sauce is creamy and heated through, 1 to 2 minutes; add salt to taste. Remove from the heat, add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, if desired, and stir vigorously. Garnish as desired.

Adding grilled, sliced, skinless chicken (‘pollo’) breast or thigh meat increases the protein content greatly. For added color and a slightly tangy flavor, one may add diced sun-dried tomatoes to the garnish.

Per serving: Calories 388; Fat 10 g (Sat. 2 g; Mono. 5 g; Poly. 3 g); Cholesterol 18 mg; Sodium ~100-200 mg (depending on seasoning preference); Carbohydrate 54 g; Fiber 3.5 g; Protein 22 g

This recipe was developed in partnership with Case Western Reserve University Nutrition Students Marianna Dayre and Eileen Lai.

For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic.