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Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini and cime di rapa, has a pleasantly bitter flavor that is an appealing contrast to the sweet pork sausage in the sauce. As you toss, both ingredients become trapped in the hollows of the ear-shaped pasta, making every bite wonderfully flavorful. Prepare this dish in cool-weather months, when broccoli rabe is in season.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup plain fine dried bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1 1/2 lb. broccoli rabe, trimmed
  • 1 lb. dried orecchiette
  • 1/2 lb. Italian sweet fennel sausage, casings discarded and meat coarsely
      chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

In a fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and stir to coat them with the oil. Season lightly with salt and cook, stirring often, until the crumbs are an even, deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Pour onto a plate and let cool.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil and add the 2 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 pasta to the boiling water, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, in the fry pan 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 browned, about 7 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 pasta is ready, scoop out and reserve about 2 ladlefuls of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sausage mixture and 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 toasted bread crumbs and serve immediately. Pass the remaining bread crumbs at the table. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian, by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).