Pasta is a weeknight life saver. It takes no time to cook, there are scores of different sizes and shapes to play with, and it’s nothing to create an interesting sauce out of pantry ingredients, fresh vegetables and available proteins.
One of my favorites is an easy spin on a traditional dish made with orecchiette. The small, circular pasta’s name means “little ears.”
You don’t see orecchiette too often on regional menus, but I highly recommend it. In Baton Rouge, you can find two brands of it at Whole Foods Market. It’s different and fun, and is one of the signature pastas from Apulia, the region of southern Italy that forms the visual “heel of the boot” on the map. You often see it paired with broccoli rabe or sturdy greens, which are traditionally cooked in the pasta water, some type of pork and chili flakes. What’s coolest about it is the way the thumbprints in the pasta help hold bits of the sauce.
I keep a stash of orecchiette in my pantry for whipping up a version that riffs on the traditional. I use chopped fresh broccoli rather than broccoli rabe because it’s easier to find and it’s a popular vegetable in my house. And I play around with various ground sausages because there’s no shortage of yummy options in local grocery stores. This dish tastes great year-round, but it’s especially good in the winter when broccoli and greens are in season.
Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground pork, turkey or chicken sausage (use your preference, including green onion, Italian or Cajun-style)
3 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces dried orecchiette pasta (or other small pasta of your choice)
4 cups (one large bunch), broccoli florets and tender stems, trimmed to small pieces
Red pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
In a very large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil to medium high. Add the sausage and garlic and sauté, breaking the sausage into crumbles. Once the sausage is cooked through, set the pan aside. Bring a large pasta pot to boil. Add the orecchiette. When the pasta has 2 minutes remaining to cook, add the broccoli. Strain the pasta and broccoli, and toss into the pan with the sausage. Toss, adding pasta water to moisten as needed. Add red pepper flakes to taste. Serve with the Parmesan cheese.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a food writer and regular 225 contributor. Reach her at hungryforlouisiana.com.