Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage is one of those classic Italian pasta dishes. Not that I grew up anything like it—I can't imagine my younger self dealing well with the notoriously bitter vegetable. But after years of drinking Negronis, I've grown to love the sensation, just so long as it is balanced by something else. In this dish, fat and heat from the spicy sausage plays the foil.
I thought there was nothing left to say about the dish until a recent visit to Baffo, the new fine dining joint in Eataly Chicago. Along with all the usual elements, a smear of bright green pesto was added. Why mess with the classic? Well, the pesto helps round off some of the sharper edges, while also lightening each bite up with fresh herbs. It's kind of a genius move, and one I felt no shame in stealing for this recipe.
Though the pasta recipe is straightforward, I loosely based some of the proportions on this recipe from Lidia Bastianich. Pesto also happens to be a breeze to make. I just followed this solid version from Joshua Bousel's Sauced column.
- Yield:Serves 4
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:30 minutes
- For the Pesto:
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/3 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Pasta:
- 1 pound orecchiette
- 1 pound fresh hot Italian sausage (remove casings if necessary)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 pounds broccoli rabe, tough ends trimmed, leaves and stem chopped into 2-inch pieces
- 1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the pesto: Pulse basil and pine nuts in a food processor until finely chopped, about five 1-second pulses. Scrape down the sides, add garlic, and pulse again until chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the top, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in Parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook orecchiette according to directions on the packaging. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water and drain pasta in a colander.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add half of the broccoli rabe and stir until leaves wilt, making room from the other half. Once all the broccoli rabe has been added, cover skillet and cook over medium-low heat until stems are bright green, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. Pour chicken stock into skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook uncovered until liquid reduces to a sauce and broccoli rabe stems are tender, 2 to 4 minutes.
Add cooked orecchiette and butter to skillet and cook over medium-high heat until the pasta is completely coated in the sauce. If it looks too dry, and some of the pasta water. Season to taste with salt if necessary.
Serve orecchiette with a generous spoonful of the pesto and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.