Thursday, February 2, 2012

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Simply a classic. I believe that when most people think of orecchiette pasta ("little ears" in Italian), visions of vibrant broccoli rabe and hearty sausage dance in their heads. It is a trifecta that is unparalleled, and so straight-forward and easy to put together. A few simple ingredients result in a balanced meal, both in flavor and color.

Slightly bitter broccoli rabe is enhanced by juicy and slightly spiced sausage, traditionally pork although I used chicken with excellent (and less guilty) results. The chewy orecchiette and salty cheese round out this dish perfectly. I only had a non-stick pan handy, so my sausage did not brown as much as I would have liked. Definitely attempt this dish with a stainless steel skillet if you have one. Your sausage will crust up nicely allowing the scant amount of chicken broth to collect every last bit of flavor from the pan, fortifying the "sauce" for this dish even more.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Serves 4 to 6

Kosher salt
1 bunch (1 lb) broccoli rabe, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb fresh sweet Italian sausage (pork, chicken, or turkey), removed from casings
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese

Blanch the broccoli rabe in boiling salted water for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the stem portions are tender but still firm (not mushy). Immediately strain the broccoli rabe from the boiling water (you will be reusing the water for the pasta) and rinse with cold water. Squeeze the rabe dry and set aside. Bring the water back to a boil and add the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, reserving some of the pasta water, drain and then return to the pot.

Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a skillet (preferably not non-stick to allow for better browning) over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic, red chili flakes, and season with salt. Keep stirring and breaking up the sausage until it is cooked through. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth and cook for a couple minutes. Add the blanched broccoli rabe to the skillet and stir until the rabe is heated through.

Add the broccoli rabe and sausage mixture to the cooked pasta along with the cheese. Stir to combine and allow the cheese to melt, adding splashes of pasta water as needed to loosen up the pasta. Serve immediately.


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