I’m just back from a two week trip to Italy, where we visited Rome, my old stomping grounds, and Puglia, the southern region where my paternal grandfather Lorenzo was born. It was a memorable trip, my first time back in Rome in years and, believe it or not, my first time ever in Puglia. We ate well just about everywhere we went. And of course, I came back home with lots of ideas for future posts.
In Rome I mostly revisited my favorite old classic dishes, most of which already figure in this website, although I have a few tricks up my sleeve for future posts. Today, however, I want to share with you one of the culinary highlights of my time in Puglia, where I discovered a kind of pasta native to Puglia called troccoli.
Troccoli are a kind of fresh thick long pasta made with durum wheat flour, for some reason far less known outside Italy than the world famous regional short pastas, orecchiette and cavatelli. Like their short format cousins, troccoli have a very appealingly chewy texture that pairs beautifully with a wide variety of sauces and dressings.
I tried them at a lovely restaurant called Antiche Mura in Polignano a Mare, dressed with a condimento of broccoli rabe and mussels. One bite and I knew I had to re-create this marvelous dish at home and share with you all. The combination of greens and seafood may come as a surprise for some, but it’s perfectly delicious. And no wonder: think of orecchiette con cime di rapa, the iconic Puglian dish which, in Italy, usually pairs broccoli rabe with anchovies.
Troccoli are admittedly a bit of a chore to make, but there are various ways to go about it (details in the Notes below) and, in any event, the broccoli rabe and mussel condimento works quite well with all sorts of pasta shapes.
For the troccoli:
- 400g (14 oz) semola rimacinata (finely ground semolina flour-see Notes)
- A pinch of salt
- 1 egg (optional)
- 200ml (7 fl oz) water, or as much as you need
For the mussels:
- 1 kilo (2 lb) mussels, or one net bag
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- olive oil
- white wine
To finish the dish:
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, just the tender shoots and leaves, cut into short lengths
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- olive oil
- 250g (1/2 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half crosswise (optional)
- 1 dried red pepper aka peperoncino (optional)
Making the troccoli
Place the semolina flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Mix well, then add the egg (if using) and incorporate. Then add, bit by bit, as much water as you need to form a fairly stiff but workable dough.
Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and not at all tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for a half hour or more.
Roll the dough out about 3mm (1/8 in) thick using a pasta machine or rolling pin. (If you’re using a pasta machine, use roller setting 1.)
Cut the dough into strands about 3mm (1/8 in) wide. Traditionally, this is done with a special purpose ridged rolling pin called a troccolaturo, but if you don’t want to buy one, then there are other methods (see Notes for details).
Flour your troccoli well to prevent sticking and set them on a cutting board or pasta rack to dry.
Preparing the mussels
In a large pot, sauté the garlic very lightly in a bit of olive oil. Add the mussels, which you will have rinsed quickly to remove any external grit and trimmed of any byssal threads aka ‘beards’, along with a drizzle of white wine, and cover.
Let the mussels steam in the pot, shaking them from time to time, until all the mussels have opened. Remove the pot from the heat, and let the mussels cool, uncovered.
Remove the mussels from their shells and place in a bowl. (If you like you can leave a few in their shells for decorating the final dish.) Strain the mussel juice left in the bottom of the pot and pour over the mussels.
Cooking the pasta and finishing the dish
Bring well salted water to a boil in a large pot, then add troccoli and the broccoli rabe. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the troccoli are al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or skillet, sauté the garlic cloves (and the peperoncino, if using) in abundant olive oil. Add the tomatoes if using and let them sauté for a minute or two until just slightly softened. Discard the garlic and peperoncino.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or skillet, sauté the garlic cloves (and the peperoncino, if using) in abundant olive oil. Add the tomatoes if using and let them sauté for a minute or two until just slightly softened.
Add the reserved mussels and their juices. Let the juices reduce a bit if they’re especially abundant. Turn off heat until the pasta is ready.
When the pasta is al dente, transfer it and broccoli rabe to the pan using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, and give it all a good toss over a lively flame, adding a bit of pasta water if need be to keep things moist. Keep tossing until the pasta and its condimento are well mixed, and the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid.
How to make troccoli with a troccolaturo
Troccoli are made with finely ground semolina flour called semola rimacinata in Italian. As I’ve pointed out before, in the US at least you need to be careful as most semolina flour you’ll find in stores is coarsely ground and not suitable for making pasta. Chances are you’ll need to order it online.
Once you’ve kneaded the dough and let it rest, roll it out into a sheet about 3cm (1/8 inch) thick, and perhaps 30cm (12 inches) long and 10cm (4 inches) wide. (Thickness is key, while length and width more a matter of convenience and preference.)
Take your troccolaturo and, starting from one end of the pasta sheet, roll it back and forth along a short length of the dough, pressing down as hard as you can. Ideally the pin would cut through the pasta into strands but in practice it typically creates deep grooves like so:
Continue, bit by bit, until you reach the end of the pasta. Now take the pasta with one hand and smack it against your cutting board. This will separate, or at least begin to separate, the strands. Finally, separate the strands by hand or, if need be, using a knife.
Sounds involved, I know… When it comes to physical tasks like making pasta, words can make the process sound more complicated than it really is. Here’a video to illustrate the technique, as performed by a master:
I’m not going to lie, making troccoli with a troccolaturo isn’t terribly easy. At least for a beginner like myself. No matter how hard you press down, it never seems to cut the pasta entirely. You’re left to separate the strands by hand, which, if I’m honest, gets rather tedious.
There’s a type of troccolaturo made out of bronze, which is much more effective than the wooden type, but they’re hard to find these days. In fact, apparently they were originally made out of metal back in the day. Bartolomeo Scappi, in his 1570 Opera, perhaps the most famous Italian cookbook of the Renaissance, includes an illustration of the troccolaturo, though he calls it a ferro da maccheroni, or macaroni iron. For reasons I can’t fathom, over time they’ve given way to today’s cheaper but less effective wooden models.
Fortunately for lazy cooks like me, there are alternative ways to make troccoli. Perhaps most common is to use a “chitarra”, the same instrument you use to make spaghetti alla chitarra aka tonnarelli. Use the side with the wider spaced strings. See this post for detailed instructions. Indeed, after trying my hand at one batch of troccoli, I switched to the chitarra for comparison. Here are the two, side by side:
On the left are the troccoli made with a troccolaturo. On the right, with a chitarra. The difference is quite subtle, mostly noticeable because the chitarra makes the strands come out uniformly even, not necessarily a bad thing. And once cooked, I’d defy anyone to tell the difference.
Otherwise, you could use your pasta maker or an extrusion machine. The problem is that the most common attachments, for spaghetti or fettuccine, are either too narrow or too wide, which will change the mouth feel of the pasta considerably. But I guess they’ll do in a pinch. If you can find an attachment for trennette, that’d be closer to the mark.
Alternative methods and pastas
If you’d rather not make your own pasta, you can always opt for store bought. In Italy, troccoli are sold commercially like other pasta shapes. Elsewhere in the EU you can buy them online. In the US you can buy them on amazon.com (but only if you really like troccoli, since they only come in a 12-pack costing $80!) Otherwise, store bought spaghetti alla chitarra would be a fairly close substitute.
And in fact, this broccoli rabe and mussels condimento lends itself nicely to many pasta shapes, both long and short. I’ve seen recipes for pasta con cime di rapa e cozze calling for orecchiette or cavatelli, for example, and wide variety of factory pastas including spaghettoni, spaghetti, linguine, casarecce, paccheri or calamarata.
Prepping the broccoli rabe
I call for trimming the broccoli rabe here. In Puglia cima di rape is rather different from the kind you can find here in the US. It’s a lighter green and has rather slender stems, with a milder flavor. I suspect it’s harvested younger. (Here’s a picture.)
The broccoli rabe here in the US has a more assertive taste and thicker stems. Both have their charms, and the US variety is fine in my view for pairing with orecchiette. But in a dish like this using long strands of pasta, I’d recommend trimming your broccoli rabe so you’re only using the more slender stems, leaves and florets.
Troccoli are sometimes made with an egg, sometimes not. They are usually made with all semolina rimacinata, finely ground semolina flour. You will find the occasional recipe where you make the dough with a mix of semolina and all purpose flour, providing a slightly softer texture.
In this recipe, I’ve called for cooking the pasta and broccoli rabe together. It saves time. But you can cook the broccoli rabe separately, then transfer it to the pan where you’ve sautéed the garlic in oil, and let it simmer a bit, before add the reserved mussel and their juices. You then cook the troccoli in the same water as the broccoli rabe and when done, added to the pan to toss with is condimento as in the main recipe.
In the version I had at Antiche Mura, the broccoli rabe was very much intact, appearing as little green flecks in the pasta, much as pictured in this post. I rather liked that approach, as otherwise the assertive taste of the broccoli rabe could have overwhelmed the mussels. But in some recipes you allow the broccoli rabe to melt into a kind of purée to coat the pasta, much as you usually do with orecchiette. Indeed, some fancy recipes take this a step further and have you purée the sautéed broccoli rabe. That makes for a more elegant take on this otherwise rustic dish.
There are other variations, too, among the ingredients. This recipe calls optionally for some tomato, which is the way I enjoyed it in Polignano. But I’ve noticed most recipes omit it, so it’s your choice. You can also make this dish with clams rather than mussels. The dish can be spicy or not, depending on your preference. The version I had in Polignano wasn’t spicy in the least. And in a few recipes, you scrape a little lemon zest on top the finished dish. But please, no grated cheese!
Troccoli con cime di rapa e cozze
For making the troccoli
- 400g 14 oz semola rimacinata (finely ground semolina flour)
- A pinch of salt
- 1 1 egg optional
- 200ml 7 fl oz 200ml (7 fl oz) water or as much as you need
For the mussels
- 1 kilo 2 lbs mussels or one net bag
- 1 clove garlic peeled and lightly crushed
- olive oil
- white wine
To finish the dish
- 1 bunch 1 bunch broccoli rabe, just the tender shoots and leaves cut into short lengths
- 1-2 cloves garlic peeled and lightly crushed
- olive oil
- 250g 1/2 lb cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half crosswise (optional)
- 1 1 dried red pepper aka peperoncino optional
Making the troccoli
- Place the semolina flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Mix well, then add the egg (if using) and incorporate. Then add, bit by bit, as much water as you need to form a fairly stiff but workable dough.
- Knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic and not at all tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for a half hour or more.
- Roll the dough out about 3mm (1/8 in) thick using a pasta machine or rolling pin. (If you're using a pasta machine, use roller setting 1.)
- Cut the dough into strands about 3mm (1/8 in) wide. Traditionally, this is done with a special purpose ridged rolling pin called a troccolaturo, but if you don't want to buy one, then there are other methods (see Notes for details).
- Flour your troccoli well to prevent sticking and set them on a cutting board or pasta rack to dry.
Preparing the mussels
- In a large pot, sauté the garlic very lightly in a bit of olive oil. Add the mussels, which you will have rinsed quickly to remove any external grit and trimmed of any byssal threads aka 'beards', along with a drizzle of white wine, and cover.
- Let the mussels steam in the pot, shaking them from time to time, until all the mussels have opened. Remove the pot from the heat, and let the mussels cool, uncovered.
- Remove the mussels from their shells and place in a bowl. (If you like you can leave a few in their shells for decorating the final dish.) Strain the mussel juice left in the bottom of the pot and pour over the mussels.
Cooking the pasta and finishing the dish
- Bring well salted water to a boil in a large pot, then add troccoli and the broccoli rabe. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the troccoli are al dente.
- Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or skillet, sauté the garlic cloves (and the peperoncino, if using) in abundant olive oil. Add the tomatoes if using and let them sauté for a minute or two until just slightly softened. Discard the garlic and peperoncino.
- Add the reserved mussels and their juices. Let the juices reduce a bit if they're especially abundant. Turn off heat until the pasta is ready.
- When the pasta is al dente, transfer it and broccoli rabe to the pan using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, and give it all a good toss over a lively flame, adding a bit of pasta water if need be to keep things moist. Keep tossing until the pasta and its condimento are well mixed, and the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid.
- Serve immediately.
how lovely to enjoy such a wonderful trip to Rome. we were there many years ago; it was fascinating.
Thank you for sharing your culinary experiences in Italy, now you made me miss that place! I am so glad you had a great time in Rome and Puglia. The troccoli pasta dish with broccoli rabe and mussels sounds amazing. I love discovering new regional Italian pastas
Thanks! They’re well worth a try, Raymund.
I don’t feel so badly about not visiting Puglia yet! I tried to go in 2021, but ended up going to Ischia instead where I wouldn’t need a car because the rental was the reason I couldn’t go (INSANE prices). I didn’t know that wooden tool’s name, but I’ve seen it so many times, and now I know, thank you! This dish looks wonderful and I loved seeing your pictures from your trip! I hope to go soon, but nothing booked yet!
Don’t feel bad. After all, this was my first time there and I lived in Rome for many years.
We actually didn’t bother renting a car. Besides the expense, I didn’t want to have to deal with parking, etc. We got around fine with a combination of trains and (for getting to/from Alberobello) taxis. It used to be quite the odessey getting from Rome to Bari by train but there are now direct fast trains that will get you there very comfortably in 4 hours.Anyway, it’s really well worth the trip!
Looking forward to getting back to Italy for a visit one day, Frank! My wife has never been but when I was much younger and a student I back-packed around the country visiting Rome, Pizza, Florence to name but a few! So much excellent food was had. Looking forward to giving this a go. Looks delicious!
Thanks, Neil! Hope you like it if you do try the dish.
I actually thought of you here in Italy. How did u find the old country and Rome in particular? I guess you were here for artichoke season? Any major change?
Puglia: the Trentino Alto Adige of the South :)))
On that flour: if u can find it, La Molisana brand has an excellent semola rimacinata INTEGRALE (when in London, I buy it online, so maybe u will be able to find it in the US too)
I had a blast. And yes I was there for artichoke season and ate them (almost) daily while I was in Rome. I had carciofi alla giudia and alla romana, of course. But also battered and fried as part of a fritto misto. And we went to one of our old haunts, Evangelista, only a few steps from the old apartment, where the specialty of the house are carciofi al mattone. Just as delicious as I remember.
And speaking of vegetables, then there was the trip to the Mercato Trionfale (we were staying with my niece who lives in Prati) where I got to see those magnificent purple tinged artichokes, as well as the strawberries, wild asparagus, puntarelle… all the things you can’t find for love or money here. Made me happy and sad at the same time.
What struck me most about Rome was how very little had changed. I felt as if I had entered into a time machine! Physically, of course, the city looks just the same as it did. No surprises there, I suppose. But in our old neighborhood I found the enoteca where I used to buy wines was still in the business, as well as the old corner bar and the local pharmacy, as well as many of our favorite restaurants. All still going strong. And believe it or not, in the pharmacy, I went in to find the same pharmacist still attending to customers! I guess they don’t call it the Eternal City for nothing.
There were, of course, some changes. Mostly for the better. So now most restaurants and other business establishments will accept payment with credit cards (not the case back in the day) and you can call and pay taxis, and book train tickets, with apps on your phone, which makes life so much easier and simpler. Getting down to Puglia is a lot easier now as there are now direct fast trains from Rome to Bari (and then on to Lecce). In my day the trip would have taken the better part of a day, one reason I didn’t make the trip back then.
The one negative: there are also a lot more tourists. Rome was always a tourist magnet, of course. But I never saw it so packed as it was this time. Granted, it was Holy Week, but the crowds were so bad in front of the Pantheon that you could literally hardly walk. And some of the sights you used to be able to walk into freely, like the Forum and the Pantheon, now require timed tickets. (Apparently that started during COVID.) Puglia was a bit better except for Alberobello, which was crawling with tourists during the day. The place felt like Disneyland.
Anyway, overall it was an awesome trip. Had me thinking I might well move back now that I’m retired…
Welcome home, Frank! I enjoyed traveling vicariously with you via Instagram. 🙂 Troccoli is definitely new to me, but I’ve never really met a pasta I didn’t like…so I’m thinking the odds are good here. This sounds fantastic, and it’s always fun to try and recreate dishes you found while on vacation. Looking forward to hearing more about the trip!
Glad you liked the shots, David. 🙂 Definitely worth giving it a go! And no worries, you’ll be hearing much more about it in future posts. 😉
It’s wonderful to read you are back home, safe and sound, after a happy and healthy trip! Methinks a lot of memories were created! I love the look of the dish . . . well, do not have the particular rolling pin . . . and, would you believe it, broccoli rabe or rapini as it is known here is available at only a few Italian greengroceries – must search and hope . . . if I see it at a farmers’ market shall remember your recipe . . .
Well, good luck! I think this dish is worth going out of your way to find the right ingredients.
The troccoli dish looks yummy, can’t wait to try, in fact i am going to try tonight.
Hope you liked it, Salvatore!
Are you over the sadness of leaving Italy? It takes me a few weeks. The pasta shape reminds me very much, of Chitarra/Tonarelli pasta. My Guitar has fairly thin cutting strings on one side and on the other side they are farther apart. Thinking the wider side could work for this pasta. Who can’t use another pasta shape in the repertoire…not me!
Gotten over the sadness? No… to be honest, I never quite got over the sadness of leaving Rome back in 2005! And this trip really made me think about moving back one day…
Anyway, yes, as mentioned in the notes a chitarra would definitely be a good alternative to the troccolaturo. And do use the wider side. The result is very close indeed. Enjoy!
oh wow – I thought it was bucatini! I would love to make this pasta, as well as this dish. Nobody else eats mussels.. but what the hell. I’ll enjoy it all. Glad you had such a great trip. And jeez – you can’t make it to every town in Italy! Glad you got to experience Puglia!
More for you! Actually I’m sort of happy that mussels aren’t more popular here. I think it might be for that reason that they are one of the few types of seafood that remain very reasonably priced.
And, sure, it’s true that it would take a lifetime to visit all of Italy. But I do feel a bit guilty about not visiting Puglia sooner, since I have a personal connection to the place. And indeed, my visit to my grandfather’s hometime was one of the highlights. That said, back in the day the connections between Rome and Puglia were not very good. Quite the odyssey to get there. But these days, with Puglia having become a ‘hot spot’ there are easy and direct train connections. Anyway, better late than never!
It sounds like you had a fabulous time in Italy. I must say our food experience in Rome was a bit hit and miss, unfortunately. It seems greed and mediocrity has snuck its ugly head into the gorgeous city. But the food we did have that was good, was incredible.
I just love that rolling pin, would love a metal one even more! Your recipe sounds delicious (as always). Your note about broccoli rabe being harsher in North America hit home, I’ve not been able to enjoy it here and therefore avoided it in Italy but next time I’ll try it. I just find it too bitter here.
Yes, I certainly did have a fabulous time. We were lucky in that my niece lives in Rome so she took care to book us into her favorite restaurants, plus one we used to go to back in the day, which is still around and still very good. So we ate quite well. 🙂
And yes, if you try cime di rapa in Italy, I think you’d be surprised how delicate the taste is.
I wish I knew where to get my hands on the metal version of the rolling pin. Perhaps my next trip to Italy…
I love mussels and broccoli, so I’ll definitely be trying this. I may have to use purple sprouting broccoli in place of broccoli rabe, but I think it will work.
It sounds like you had a great holiday!
I hope you like it, MD! And yes, I had a wonderful holiday. Now I want to move back there…
Very glad to hear you were able to visit Italy once more …
Thanks! Had a blast. 🙂
I am so glad you had such a good trip — I look forward to exploring Puglia one day. I have made a lot of pastas using semolina flour, but never one with egg. Did you end up using the egg or not? I imagine it would make the dough pretty easy to work. I can’t wait to try both the pasta and the condimento.
Thanks, David! Puglia should definitely be on your bucket list, though based on experience you might want to go a bit later than we did, say May, or perhaps try October, when I understand that weather is still quite nice but the summer crowds have dissipated.
Anyway, yes, I did use the egg and I very much liked the result. And bit easier to work with and a bit richer tasting than water and semolina flour alone. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this!
Can’t beat the fresh homemade pasta! And the oysters…I am drooling!
Glad to know that you had a great time back home in Italy.
So true. I had a wonderful time there. And there are more posts to come!
So glad you had a good time in Italy. We leave tomorrow for two weeks. I am going to look for a rolling pin like yours and I will come home with semolina as I don’t know if the one we get here is fine enough. I also need to look and see what extrusion dies I have. I will be making egg free pasta for the first week in Naples and this shape seems simple enough.
Enjoy your time in Italy, Tandy! Would be very interested to know how your experience with making troccoli goes.