Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli is an essential recipe that anyone who enjoys cooking Italian food should have in their toolbox. This recipe is from the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot) where we visited in 2012. Orecchiette is a signature semolina pasta (no eggs) from this region. So too is the abundance of vegetables grown in this unique region surrounded on three sides by warm seas.
The authentic version of this dish is made with broccoli rabe (in Italian – rapini). It can be hard to find, so I frequently substitute baby broccoli. If you can find rapini, definitely use it because the slightly bitter taste balances well with the creaminess of the cheese. All broccoli is somewhat bitter, which is why most kids don’t like it, but if you like Brussels sprouts, you’ll love rapini!
Puglia is a magical area of Italy with diverse places ranging from gritty port towns, to beautiful beach towns, to inland white-washed hill towns surrounded by red rocky soil. This rocky soil, which is nearly impossible to plow, led to the planting of olive trees and building of the legendary stone conical trulii houses. The olive trees of Puglia are world-famous. We visited an olive tree farm where some of the trees were 2000 years old. The owner boasted that his trees where older than Christ.
Puglia (which is about the size of the US state of New Jersey) has an amazing wine culture. Inland areas where rocks have been painstakingly cleared to make way for a rich wine culture known for big red wines that go perfectly with the region’s food. Puglia’s hot climate coupled with the terroir of the soil produces big red wines from varietals including Negroamaro and Primitivo, as well as delicious white blends.
Puglia’s lack of arable land on which to raise large fields of grain crops or livestock means that its unique regional cuisine includes mostly small-garden vegetable- and seafood-forward dishes. As with all other Italian regional cuisines, the Pugliese have accepted the character of their landscape and taken fullest advantage of it to develop a distinctive regional cuisine that is also fully Italian in its appreciation of local, fresh ingredients and taking advantage of what is at hand.
Easy to prepare with simple ingredients yet rich and satisfying in flavor and texture, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli is a favorite pasta dish in our house; I have no doubt that this taste of Puglia will become one of yours as well.Print
- Approx. 5 oz rapini or broccolini, root ends trimmed
- Pinch hot pepper flakes
- 2 sweet Italian sausages, meat removed from the casings
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Splash white wine
- ½ lb dried orecchiette
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for serving
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Setup a large pot of water to boil the broccoli and afterwards the pasta. If you have a pot with a strainer insert, that will make things easier. Once the water is boiling, salt the water as you would for cooking pasta.
- Add the broccoli and once the water returns to a boil, cook for 4 minutes. In the meantime, setup an ice water bath in a bowl. Once the broccoli is cooked, remove immediately leaving the water behind and place in the ice bath. Once the broccoli is cold, remove from water and pat dry and cut into bitesized pieces.
- Set a large frypan over medium heat. Add a few tbsps of olive oil to warm. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. They should sizzle a bit. With your hands, crumble the raw sausage into the pan. With a wooden spoon break the sausage into small bit and stir until cooked. Push the sausage to the side and add the garlic. Sauté quickly until the garlic browns. Add the splash of wine and loosen the bits of sausage from the pan and stir everything together. Remove from the heat.
- Return the water used to cook the broccoli to a boil. Add the pasta and cook per the package directions to “al dente”. Note that the package cooking times start when the water returns to a boil.
- Remove the pasta from the water reserving at least a cup. Add the pasta and the cut broccoli to the pan with the sausage and return to a medium heat. Gradually add the cheese and a little pasta water and stir. The water and cheese will make a light sauce and will also get absorbed into the pasta. Keep adding water and cheese until the pasta is cooked to your liking.
- Add some ground pepper and serve with more grated cheese.