One of my husband’s favorite pasta dishes is orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, which he’s been asking for since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve made it quite often and have even written about it here. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to procure any broccoli rabe. When he recently suggested using regular broccoli, I shrugged and said it wouldn’t be the same and told him we would have to wait. He replied silently with a sulk.
A few days after this conversation, I opened the fridge to find a bag of pre-washed broccoli florets and a package of bulk sausage that had been resurrected from the bottom of our freezer. When I asked my better half how these items seemed to have appeared so suddenly, he replied, once again silently, with a self-satisfied smile.
He then added that he had done some research online and found a recipe for orecchiette with broccoli florets and sausage on Jennifer Segal’s blog Once Upon a Chef. It had been adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s version of the dish made with broccoli. What could I do but make the dish.
The recipe wasn’t bad and pretty much followed Lidia’s. My ingredients, however, required some tweaking. Because the bagged florets were quite uneven in size, they needed to cut into more uniform pieces so that they would cook evenly. And when I looked at the sausage, I thought it might benefit from a dash of fennel powder and a few grinds of black pepper for added flavor.
I also made a few modifications to the recipe’s instructions. Having grown up in an Italian household, I’m not a fan of “crisp” when it comes to vegetables. I therefore extended the cooking time for the broccoli from 3 or 4 minutes to 9 or 10. For more flavor, I cooked the garlic along with the red-pepper flakes and increased the time from 1 to 2 or 3 minutes. Finally, after the pasta was cooked, I reserved some of the pasta water in case the dish was dry after tossing the pasta.
We both enjoyed the dish which exceeded my expectations. After a few bites, I turned to my better half and said, “This is really good.” One more time, he replied without words but with a rather smug grin that said: “I told you so.”
Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli (adapted from a recipe on Once Upon a Chef by Jennifer Segal)
1 pound orecchiette
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
12 ounces broccoli florets, split any large florets in half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat.
3. Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook, breaking apart with a spoon, until lightly browned, 5-6 minutes.
4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and red-pepper flakes; cook for about 2 minutes more, being careful not to burn the garlic.
5. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, chicken broth, broccoli, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to release the flavorful brown bits, until the broccoli is tender, 9 to 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the butter until melted and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce. Set aside, partially covered, until the pasta is cooked.
7. To the pot of boiling water, add the orecchiette and cook according to package instructions. When done, reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta well, and place it back in the pasta pot.
8. Add the sausage and broccoli mixture, along with half of the cheese, and toss to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning. If too thick, loosen with spoonful or two of the pasta water. Transfer to warmed bowls or a serving platter and pass the remaining grated cheese at the table.
Wine Pairing: Primitivo, Zinfandel