Here's a rock solid Sunday Supper type feast for ya! This one's great for date night, or even better for family night! You can feed an army with this one. So versatile, too! Vegetarian!? Just leave out the sausage! Don't care for the bitterness of broccoli rabe (also known as rapini)? Swap it out with plain broccoli.
I love orecchiette. I literally translates to "little ears" in Italian, and that's exactly what they resemble! "Orechiette Alle Cime De Rapa" is a traditional dish in the Southern Puglia region of Italy (right in the heel of the boot!). Orechiette have a variable texture, which is one of the resasons I love to eat them. They are more firm around the edges, but have a softer and chewier center. The result is a pretty hearty dish. Now me being a fat and happy American? Yes, I also add Sausage to my version!!
We're making a riff on the traditional dish. In order to take a bit of the bitter bite of the rapini, we're going to blanch it first in boiling water, then shock it in an ice water bath. Use the same water for the orecchiette. Make sure to stir vigorously during the first few moments of cooking the pasta, the little ears tend to stack on top of each other, which will leave you with many uncooked ears wedged inbetween cooked ones. This recipe serves four comfortably. If you wanna bump it up to six, increase the sausage to 1 1/2 lbs, and use the whole pound of pasta!
1 lb Italian Sausage (casings removed if using links)
1 bunch Broccolli Rabe, rinsed (trim bottom thick stems off, about 2 to 3 inches)
12 oz. Orecchiette Pasta
4 cloves garlic, chopped (hell, I use 6!)
2 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper (this is tame, you like it hotter?! By all means, bump it up!)
1/2 Cup White Wine (only rule, something you will finish by serving with the pasta, so make it good!)
1 Cup Reserved Pasta cooking water
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (plus extra for serving)
Salt and Pepper
Fill large pot with water. Salt the heck out of it and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, set up a large bowl with a good amount of ice. Once water is boiling, drop your rinsed and trimmed rapini right into the water. Return to a boil, and blanch for three minutes. Carefully remove using tongs or a slotted spoon and drop into bowl of ice. Add cold water. Allow the rapini to "shock" and end the cooking process and cool completely. When completely cool remove from water and place in strainer and allow to drain while you move onto the next project. Squeeze down with your hands as hard as you can. Pick up the bunch and wring it out. You want to remove as much water as possible.
Using same pot and the same water, return to a boil, and add your orecchiette. Cook to al dente following instructions. While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet (one big enough to eventually hold everything!) and add olive oil. Crumble in sausage and cook over med-high heat, constantly stirring and breaking apart into smaller pieces. I use a potato masher to break it down. You're looking for pieces inbetween a raisin and a grape! While sausage is cooking, chop your broccoli rabe into 1/2 pieces. When sausage is completely browned, remove to a plate.
Add garlic, a few shakes of salt and pepper, crushed red pepper, and chopped broccoli rabe to pan, and saute for a minutes or so until well combined. Add the wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan, loosening any bits of sausage. Allow wine to reduce for a couple of minutes. Add sausage back into pan. Stir to combine.
Meanwhile, drain cooked pasta, reserving one cup of the pasta cooking water. Dump pasta into skillet. Stir very well to combine all the flavors. Pour in the cooking water, and stir well. The dish will start to absorb the water. Sprinkle in the cheese, and continue to stir. The cheese will blend with the remaining water forming a bit of a subtle, creamy sauce. Taste it! If it needs a touch more salt and pepper, now's the time to add!
Serve immediately with crusty bread. Pass around more parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper at the table! Enjoy!