I was at the grocery store today and came across a large and beautifully fresh bunch of broccoli rabe (also known as rapini). I don’t find it in the stores very often here. We grow it in the garden in the spring and freeze it, but I used the last of my supply and we are still months out from our home grown greens, so I was thrilled to find such a fresh bunch. I couldn’t wait to get home and make this dish. It’s one of my favorite pasta dishes, traditional to the region of Puglia, Italy, from which my father’s family immigrated to the US. There is it made with orecchiette pasta, but I prefer ditalini with it because I like it just a little soupy. Many years ago, when I visited the small town of Bovino where my paternal grandparents were born, I was amazed at the variety of greens available at the farmers market. I suspect some were wild, but they all looked so inviting that I was sorry I was in a hotel without a kitchen because I would have liked to sample all the varieties. Very fresh broccoli rabe has a slightly pleasant bitter edge that I enjoy, but if you use greens that are older it may be too bitter and univiting. Fresh is best. This recipe is similar to others online but I like these proportions better, and using Aleppo pepper with its citrus overtones complements the broccoli rabe nicely.
Macaroni with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage
10 c. chopped and packed broccoli rabe (1 large or 2 small bunches)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. sliced red onion
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (casing removed)
1/4 c. pasta cooking water
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. chicken broth
3/4 lb. ditalini pasta
Begin by bringing a 5-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add a bit of kosher salt along with the broccoli rabe. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the greens with a slotted spoon, saving the water to cook the pasta in. In a sauté pan heat olive oil. When hot, add onions and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute to soften. Add sausage, breaking it up with a spoon into small bits. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the meat is no longer pink. While the sausage is cooking boil the pasta in the broccoli rabe water. Set aside 1/4 cup of the cooking water for the pasta sauce before draining the cooked ditalini. Add broccoli rabe and the pasta cooking water to the cooked sausage, along with a bit of salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Be careful not to add too much salt because you will be adding broth. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring to mix and absorb flavors. Add chicken stock and cheese. Cook 3 more minutes for cheese to melt. Add pasta and stir to coat with broccoli rabe and sausage. Cook a few more minutes. You may want to add more cheese. Pour into a serving bowl. Feel free to add more cheese to individual portions. Serves 6.
Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Finished Ditalini with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage