When you dig a little deeper into Italian cuisine, you realise that they are very particular about what foods go together and how certain dishes are set in stone. Orecchiette with Sausage & Broccoli Rabe is one such dish. I'm all for an authentic Italian recipe, so happy to play by the rules and create dishes as they should be.
It's no mistake that the flavours of Italian sausage, broccoli rabe and orecchiette pasta are a marriage made in heaven. And it's no wonder Italians roll their eyes when the rules aren't followed. Let's keep it real and cook the dish (more or less) as it's supposed to be.
What is Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)?
Broccoli rabe (rapini) is actually not broccoli at all, and is more closely related to turnip. The end tips resemble broccolini which is most likely why it get its nickname. The leaves and stems are used in the recipe and bring a bitterness to the dish. This bitterness works so well with Italian style sausage - sweet and meaty with aniseed fennel flavour - it's perfect!
What is Orecchiette Pasta?
The final part to the trio of essentials is the orecchiette pasta. pronounced 'or-eh-key-ette' it translates as 'little ears'. They are typically durum wheat pasta shaped like small concave buttons or ears. You can buy them pre-made and dried which is perfectly fine (and how I cook them half the time) and you can also make your own pretty easily using a semola flour (semolina/durum wheat flour and water). But today, we're focussing on the sauce and not the pasta, so store-bought it is!
The concave element of the orecchiette are perfect for trapping the sauce, ensuring you get a small pop of flavour with every bite. The Ialians are masters of their craft and it's no mistake that this happens.
What makes this dish so successful, is not only the flavour, it's the simplicity of the sauce. We harness all the work that went into preparing the sausage and simply pair it with the broccoli rabe. A simple preparation that like so many Italian pasta accompaniments seem to beggar belief at how full of flavour they are. What's not to love about minimal effort, maximum taste!? This treasure of a pasta dish is beloved in Italy and and even more in my household - I cook it all the time, whenever I see broccoli rabe at the store, I whip it off the shelf in a heartbeat. But even when I can't get hold of it, all is not lost - you can substitute rapini with broccolini or just regular broccoli (without the bitterness), you can also use arugula or mustard greens to mirror the bitterness. But it's broccoli rabe that is the most successful and tastiest - so keep your eyes peeled! Enjoy!!