Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

So we made orecchiette yesterday. It was an exciting day. We made the dough, shaped the pasta and then put it in the fridge for about 6 hours, because Rocco’s book told us to: “It is best to make the dough and shape it the night before, letting it dry in the fridge overnight.” Then it came time to cook the pasta and eat it in a meal…

Have you ever picked out a recipe to make and you had no idea what one of the main ingredients was?

Well, if you haven’t then shame on you. No, I’m kidding. I do understand the hesitance most people have when encountering new foods; I used to be this way, myself. There once was a day when I wouldn’t touch feta cheese, onions, olives and even, are you ready for this one?, tomatoes. As I’ve gotten older, however, I have found that the foods I hate usually end up becoming my favorites. This is why I am hesitant to say I hate any food. (Who wants to end up loving brains? I don’t.)  When someone says to me, “Oh, I don’t like _____” it is hard for me to not respond by saying, “I used to hate ______ too, then one day I actually tried it.” Turns out, people don’t like being force-fed.

Like I said, the recipe for the orecchiette we made yesterday came from Rocco’s Italian American and, subsequently, so did the recipe we used the orecchiette in. The exciting part was that this recipe had a mystery ingredient in it: broccoli rabe.

When we went to Whole Foods to get the groceries for this meal, we had no idea what broccoli rabe was. I was thinking one ingredient was broccoli and rabe was a preparation method or seasoning I had never heard of. Then I saw the freakish plant in the vegetable crisper and I was intrigued to learn more.

(Before I get down to the nitty gritty of making this dish, I want to tell you a little bit about broccoli rabe. If you don’t care or are already familiar with it then go ahead and skip on down the page to read the recipe. No hard feelings.)

Broccolie rabe, pronounced like rahb, has a bunch of different names. It also goes by broccoli raab, broccoli raap, broccoletti, broccoli di rape and friarielli, among others. It is popular in the cuisines of Southern Italy, China and Portugal.

Pretty broccoli rabe ready to be rinsed, trimmed and chopped.

Broccoli rabe grows all over the world these days and is available all year long, though it’s peak season is fall to spring. (Look, I am getting this info from its Wikipedia article. I didn’t know this already.) It looks like a bouquet of greens with little broccoli buds and can have the occasional edible tiny, yellow flower. It is described as nutty, bitter and pungent. I thought the florets tasted a bit like broccoli but even more like brussels sprouts. They are all from the same biological genus, you know.

Once we understood a little about the plant we were going to consume, we started to cook:

Mise en place, as in your ducks are all in a row. Mise en place!

Broccoli rabe + sausage + garlic

Some of the orecchiette is starting to float.

Broccoli rabe is tender and ready for the pasta.

Together, at last.


lovingly adapted from Rocco’s Italian American

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mild sausage, casing removed
1/2 pound hot sausage, casing removed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken stock (we had to use a bouillon  cube)
4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bunch of broccoli rabe, trimmed & chopped (see my note, below)
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add sausage and break into bite-sized pieces with a spatula once it browns on all sides.

2. Bring a BIG pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt, seriously a handful, when the water startes to simmer.

3. When the sausage is nicely browned, pour in the chicken stock. This is deglazing—the liquid will pick up all the tasty bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan (see Kendall’s note below). As it simmers , scrape the bottom of the skillet with he edge of a wooden spoon to help the process along. It will take 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat when most of the water has evaporated.

4. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic cloves to the pan and letting the garlic brown brown slowly. With a fork or wooden spoon, smash the garlic cloves and move them around to brown all sides.

5. Add the broccoli rabe and let it simmer, uncovered, for about 6 minutes, or until the broccoli rabe is tender, but not mushy, and bright green. If once the broccoli rabe is cooked there is still liquid, remove the broccoli rabe and continue to simmer the liquids until it has reduced and thickened enough to stick to the pasta.

6. Add the orecchiette into boiling pot of water and stir. The pasta is cooked when it has floated to the surface of the water, about 4-5 minutes. Promptly drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water separately.

7. Add the pasta to the pan with the broccoli rabe and sausage, incorporating a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss repeatedly and serve.

Some Serving Suggestions:
– I drizzled some olive oil on mine because I wanted to. It was good. Kendall and I discussed that adding some lemon flavor, whether juice or zest, would have been nice. Serving this with a little grated romano or parmesan on top would have been tasty too.

Mandy’s Notes:
– Drying the pasta after shaping: Judging from my internet research, this step doesn’t seem 100% necessary but Rocco said, so Mandy did.

– The recipe requested that this vegetable be “trimmed and chopped” and, seeing as I had no idea this thing existed prior to this experience, I looked up “broccoli rabe” on YouTube. I found this trick to remove the stringy, woody outside of the stem:

I don’t think this step is extremely necessary, you could just pull the leaves off and give it a good coarse chop. Many other videos, recipes and photos on the internet show the plant prepared without any chopping what-so-ever. If you are willing to spend an extra 5-10 minutes to try this “Italian cooking secret” then go for it. We did and it made for nice, tender stems.

– Salting the water: We cannot stress the importance of adequately salting the water. I don’t mean just to add a pinch or two. I mean POUR SOME SALT IN THERE. Turn the salt container upside down and count to three. We’ll get into the details of salting your water in a later post but for now just peruse this thread on Chowhound for a sneak peek: Do you add salt to boiled water for pasta?

– Step 6: If you don’t already have one, consider getting pasta strainer pot insert like the one we have from Ikea, for easy pasta removal.

– PS, I wrote this post while eating the leftovers. The fresh pasta reheated perfectly.

Kendall’s Notes:
– Let me start by saying that I liked this dish very much—especially the homemade orecchiette. I cannot wait to try making other kinds of homemade pasta. This may become an obsession.

– I knew going in to making this that I was not going to be using an appropriate cooking dish for something that was going to require deglazing but we only the pans that we have right now. I’m sure that the “sauce” would have turned out differently with the proper tools.

– We didn’t have any chicken stock. It turned out that we didn’t even have chicken broth so we resorted to using a bouillon cube. I don’t believe this is even close to being the same thing but it’s the kind of stuff that happens all the time when you cook at home and don’t feel like making another trip to the store. I’m sure we’ll make this recipe again sometime with chicken stock (hopefully some that we made ourselves) and a proper cooking pan. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes things.

– The broccoli rabe does taste like a more bitter broccoli. It’s one of those things where I’m not sure if it’d like it by itself but balanced with the other flavors it was quite delicious.

– posted by Mandy

10 responses to “Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

  1. I like this blog!!

  2. This looks so good!

  3. I got all my stuff and will opefully make this today

  4. YAY! we made itttt. and it was DELICIOUS!

    • You should let us know what you did differently and how you thought it turned out. Maybe we will try it your way in the future! How did you like broccoli rabe?

  5. OMG, this looks delicious. Perhaps this should be my weekend adventure…

    • Julie, the pasta making part is a lot of fun and I don’t think anyone can mess up the shaping of it either. Let us know how it works for you!

  6. Olive oil is great for any recipe but it is also a good source of phytochemicals and vitamins.^

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  7. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in high amounts in nuts and oils, such as olive oil and vegetable oil. They can also be found in meat and dairy products. Although monounsaturated fats are present in a wide variety of foods, olive oil is perhaps the most acclaimed source of these beneficial fats.*

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