The week before last was an unusually hectic one. As Saturday approached, between the demands of family and work, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to make my weekly run to the farmers' market. This might not seem like a big deal...but to me it was. I don't remember the last time during the growing season—when I was in town—that I missed a Saturday morning market. Not only do I just love to be there....from mid-April through October it is the source of most of our produce each week.
When I finally got around to doing our weekly produce shopping (at the grocery store) on Monday, I gravitated towards the Asparagus...it really is what I'm in the mood for this time of year. I mentioned in a previous post that due to the lateness of our Spring (and the consequent lack of any local produce) that I had been purchasing quite a bit of California asparagus and that it had been very nice. Well, the stuff I saw Monday was a different story. As I looked at it I wondered, as I frequently do when I happen to see inferior "in season" produce in a grocery store, why anyone would purchase it. Almost always, the locally grown counterparts—which are abundant, and therefore cheaper—are truly superior.
With some regret and irritation, I moved past the asparagus and came upon the broccoli. Good old, reliable broccoli. Even if the broccoli at the grocery store isn't as fantastic as just-cut, farm-fresh, it is almost always of a reasonable quality. And it seems to be available year round. When nothing else at the store looks good, I can usually count on broccoli.
Because broccoli is so ubiquitous it is sort of a "go to" green vegetable for us. Simply blanched and tossed with olive oil, it is a fine side vegetable for a weeknight meal. Not surprisingly, it often appears at my house as a "sauce" for pasta. Most of the time it ends up in a pasta with some combination of olives/capers/anchovies, pepper flakes, garlic, pine nuts and lemon zest. I love it this way. This week though, I wanted to combine it with some Italian Sausage.
I found a recipe in one of my favorite pasta books for a traditional Pugliese pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage. It looked simple...and delicious...and most importantly, I had all the ingredients in the house. I obviously didn't have any broccoli rabe, but after looking at the recipe I knew that I could easily adapt it for regular broccoli. I think this pasta would be delicious with just about any green...kale and chard in particular come to mind.
One of the things I like about this dish is the method used for cooking the sausage. Instead of warming the oil and then adding the sausage, the recipe instructs you to put the sausage into a cold pan along with the oil and garlic. Doing this makes the sticky Italian sausage easier to break up as it begins to cook. I don't know why I never thought of doing this before...it is, after all, exactly how I routinely cook bacon (by starting it in a cold pan). If you like your sausage to have crispy edges, this method will not be for you, but if you just want the sausage to be cooked and to blend in nicely with the other ingredients, this is an excellent method.
You will notice in the ingredient list that I have included some optional lemon zest and dried oregano. These were not part of the original recipe, but I liked the lift and interest they added to the dish. I'm sure the pasta would be delicious without them...and I would not hesitate to make this pasta if I didn't have them on hand.
I'm happy to report that I was able to return to the market this morning. As always when I go after having missed a week (after returning from vacation for example), I was struck by how much the market has changed in such a short span of time. Whereas before the offerings were quite thin, this week there was abundance: greens of all kinds (arugula, lettuces, kale, chard, broccoli rabe), radishes and white top turnips, the first of the beets, larger spring onions, strawberries.....and, to my surprise, broccoli. I'm sure this pasta will be even more delicious with fresh, local broccoli.
Orecchiette with Broccoli & Italian Sausage
1 1/4 lbs. broccoli crowns
1/4 c. olive oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed if necessary
Zest of 1 large lemon (optional)
1 t. dried oregano (optional)
1 lb. orecchiette
2 T. Extra Virgin Olive oil
freshly grated Pecorino
Prepare the broccoli: Trim the florets away from the stems and cut into uniform, small (3/4- to 1-inch) florets. Trim the tough end off of the stalk (you should only need to trim away about a quarter inch or so—because you are using "crowns" the stalk portion should be almost entirely usable). Peel away any thick/tough skin on the portion of the stalk that remains. Cut the trimmed and peeled stalks into rough 1/4-inch by 1-inch batonnets.
|Ingredients for half of a recipe|
Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.
Meanwhile, place 1/4 c. olive oil, garlic, pepper flakes and sausage in a very large, cold sauté pan. Set over medium heat. Cook, breaking up the sausage with a fork or a wooden spoon. When the contents of the pan begin to sizzle add the zest and oregano. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage has lost its pinkness, Set side and keep warm.
While the sausage cooks, cook the broccoli and the pasta: When the pasta water comes to a boil, add 2 T. of salt (or to taste). Add the broccoli stems and cook until just tender—about 3 minutes. Add the florets to the pot and continue to cook until the florets are just tender—another 2 minutes. Scoop the broccoli out, shaking off any excess water and add to the pan with the sausage. Toss to combine and keep warm (in a warm spot or over very low heat) while the pasta cooks.
Add the pasta to the same pot that the broccoli was cooked in and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the pan and toss to combine—adding some of the reserved pasta water if it looks dry. Drizzle in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and toss again. Serve, passing the Pecorino on the side. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: If preparing this pasta with Broccoli Rabe, use 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. Trim away any tough or dry portions of the stems and split any stems that are thicker than a pencil. Blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling salted water until just tender. Lift out and spread on a baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water, coarsely chop and add to the pan with the sausage. Proceed with the recipe as written. If using kale or chard, prepare as for the broccoli rabe, removing the ribs of the greens (discard the ribs) before blanching.
(Recipe adapted from Four Seasons Pasta by Janet Fletcher)