Broccoli rabe is an acquired taste. I do not think there is not one child on earth who will go within ten feet of it; the bitterness scares them. Many adults not of the Italian persuasion, and some who are, think it is awful. I used to hate it but now I LOVE it. I found, however, I love it better when it has been pre-cooked, or blanched. That takes some of the bitterness out of it and makes it tender.
Check out my note at the end of the ingredients below: if you hate broccoli rabe, just simply cannot bear it, you can substitute! It works well.
Some of the recipes called for one pound of sausage, which would have made the dish way too rich. Also, to avoid the bland pasta, I used very good pasta imported from Italy, the kind in the cellophane bag that almost looks fresh. It is not completely dried, in fact, the ingredients listed on the package include semolina and water. Regular boxed pasta, which is good for most uses, are completely dried.
I chose the brand Tarall'oro bought at Fairway and used a shape called Oreccheitte Caserecce. Orecheitte means "little ears", and yes, that is what they look like. Caserecce means homemade, and they do look homemade! They also look like little hats. Very cute.
I used to think that it didn't matter about the shape, pasta was pasta. Not true! They differ in how they handle the various sauces. I also used a method of cooking that I do not normally use, that I always see on the cooking shows but never really did, which is to cook the pasta part way, about 3/4, and finish the rest in the pan. I found that the pasta cooked in this way absorbed the juices from the vegetables, meat, broth and wine and other flavorings and lent a creaminess to the dish. I tell you, it was all I could do not to completely inhale the dish before I served it, it was that good!!!
BROCCOLI RABE, SAUSAGE, AND PASTA
1/2 pound Italian sweet pork sausage, out of casing ( some markets sell patties so you don't have to take them out of the casing)
1 pound Italian imported pasta, orecheitte or something similar)
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped and large stems removed, blanched, drained, and set aside.
I medium onion, sliced
3 cloves sliced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup beef broth
2-3 tablespoon fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried oregano (I like Wild Sicilian Oregano, look for it)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
Pecorino Romano grated cheese
Note: If you REALLY REALLY hate broccoli rabe, you can use broccoli, broccoletti, escarole, swiss chard, or even spinach for this dish.
- Cook pasta in salted water until 3/4 done. It should be harder than al dente. Reserve in bowl, sprinkle with olive oil and stir to avoid sticking.
- Blanch the broccoli rabe: Boil water in a medium saucepan, and place the broccoli rabe in the water until just wilted. Drain well and set aside.
- Remove the sausage from the casing and break it up into small pieces. You can use your fingers or an old fashioned potato masher. Heat a large, high sided (12") saute pan, and cook the sausage until browned but not crispy. Reserve.
- In the sausage fat and some olive oil if necessary, saute sliced onion until brown and carmelized but not crispy or burnt, saute about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic about halfway through to avoid overbrowning. Add red pepper, salt and pepper.
- Add the liquids: add the wine to the onion/garlic mixture in the pan and reduce to half. Add the broth and the sausage and reduce until thickened.
- Add broccoli rabe, the rest of the herbs and spices, and stir to combine, cook about 5 minutes.
- Add pasta to mixture, cover and cook until al dente or to taste. You might have to add some water, I reserve some of the pasta water for this purpose, it will thicken the dish more so than plain water.
- Correct for taste: make sure you use enough salt!
Next time I am going to introduce to you a surprisingly odd but delicious fall dish: Pasta with yellow winter squash, subtly flavored with garlic. This is a family recipe: I have never seen it anywhere else, so I think it is pretty special, and I think you will enjoy it. This week I am experimenting with butternut, acorn or sweet yellow squash to see which is best.