Perhaps the most classic pasta from Puglia, orecchiette, Italian for “little ears,” provide the perfect shape for one of the region’s most popular dishes, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. Italian food authority Michelle Scicolone explains why in her Williams Sonoma cookbook, Essentials of Italian: “As you toss, both ingredients [broccoli rabe and sausage] become trapped in the hollows of the ear-shaped pasta, making every bite wonderfully flavorful.”
I’ve cooked this dish numerous times from childhood memories of it being made by aunt; however, it’s never been as good as the one I recently prepared using Scicolone’s recipe. I attribute the improvement over my original method both to the recipe’s parboiling the broccoli rabe and subsequently using the same water to cook the pasta and to its utilizing uncased sausage. The former step infuses the pasta with more flavor, and the latter extracts more flavor from, while adding texture to, the sausage.
For even more texture and flavor, Scicolone tops her version with toasted fine bread crumbs along with grated pecorino Romano. In my adaptation, I omit the crumb topping. Moreover, as I was only cooking for two, I used only 4 ounces of pasta as opposed to the recipe’s pound and slightly reduced the amounts of garlic (2 vs. 4 cloves) and cheese (1/4 vs. 1/2 cup).
I must say that this recipe is so good that even my uncompromising aunt, who always thought that her way was the only way when it came to food, might have adopted it, albeit reluctantly, as did I.
You can find Scicolone’s recipe on line here.
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage (Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian, by Michele Scicolone)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed
4 ounces orecchiette
1/2 lb. Italian sweet fennel sausage, casings discarded and meat coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil and add 1.5 Tbs. salt. Add the broccoli rabe and cook, testing often, until the stems are just tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Using tongs or a wire-mesh skimmer, lift out the broccoli rabe into a sieve and cool it quickly under cold running water. Drain and squeeze gently to remove excess moisture. Chop coarsely and set aside.
Add the orecchiette to the boiling water, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package directions.
Meanwhile, in the skillet over medium-low heat, warm the 1/3 cup olive oil. Add the sausage, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage meat with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is nicely browned, about 7-12 minutes.
Add the broccoli rabe and stir to combine with the sausage. Cook until the broccoli rabe is hot throughout, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.
When the orecchiette are ready, scoop out and reserve about 2 ladlefuls of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
Add the pasta to the sausage mixture, add the cheese and stir and toss well over low heat to combine, adjusting the consistency with some of the cooking water, if needed.
Divide the pasta among warmed plates or shallow bowls, top each portion with a sprinkle of the cheese and serve immediately. Pass the cheese at the table. Serves 2.
Wine Pairing: Primitivo, Greco di Tufo