I like versatility in a recipe. Not one you have to pamper or follow with great precision. It’s good when you can substitute ingredients you have on hand. Recently I spotted a pasta recipe in my folder of Quick & Easy Everyday Meals: Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli. I love the cute orecchiette noodle, which means “little ear” in Italian, because of the cup shape of the pasta. The indentations grab the sausage and veggie nicely.
Lidia Bustianich popularized the recipe in her cookbook Lidia’s Italian Table. Because the dish is so easy and adaptable, others have played with the ingredients. On the Internet, there are many variations of this southern Italian dish, including those from Williams-Sonoma, Martha Stewart, New York Times, Food Network and more. That alone speaks well of the recipe.
In some instances, you’ll find the pork sausage replaced with a spicy turkey sausage; the orecchiette with tortellini, farfalle, or ragatoni. The recipe I used called for chicken broth, but many Italian cooks prefer simple pasta water. While I like the looks of the ear-shaped noodle, I recently used some frozen tortellini that worked just fine. It’s the spicy sausage and seasonings that carry the flavor load, so don’t skimp on those.
I removed some sausage from the casing (bulk sausage is fine, too) and browned it with garlic while the noodles boiled. In went the few remaining ingredients—broccoli, chicken stock (I’m using pasta water next time), red pepper flakes, butter, and Parmesan. I finished with another sprinkle of cheese and a topping of toasted bread crumbs. Purist insist on using the cheese of ancient Rome: a grated Pecorino Romano, rather than Parmesan. But both work well.
Within 25 minutes I had a hearty one-dish meal with leftovers. Some food blogger indicate the dish can be frozen, but I’ve not tried that yet. You’ll find this a handy, quick meal that’s fun to experiment with—a pasta that’s great on flavor without a heavy sauce.
Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli
- 1 lb. orecchiette
- 5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings or bulk
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup chicken broth (or pasta water)
- 1 lb. broccoli florets
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- Bread crumbs, toasted and buttered
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orecchiette and cook according to package instructions.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil over medium high heat. Crumble sausage into the skillet and cook, breaking apart with a spoon, until lightly browned, 5-6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; cook 1 minute more.
- Add remaining 4 Tbs. olive oil (I used only 2 Tbs), chicken broth (or reserved pasta water), broccoli, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to release the flavorful brown bits, until broccoli is tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes. Stir in butter and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce.
- Drain pasta and add to sausage/broccoli mixture. Toss to blend. Add half the grated cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish, or individual bowls, and sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese. Top with bread crumbs, if using. Serves 4-6.