Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe is a quintessential Italian-American all-in-one meal. Sweet fennel sausage, garlicky broccoli rabe, and spicy cherry peppers mingle together, nesting inside the little orecchiette, making each bite flavorful and satisfying to the core.
There are some things that are just better together: peanut butter and jelly; strawberries and rhubarb; and then broccoli rabe, sausage, and pasta.
Yes, this is one of my favorite (and easy) meals of all time. I grew up eating this, and if you grew up in an Italian-American household, you likely did too.
This Americanized version takes its cue from the Apulian dish orecchiette con cime di rapa. This Italian-American dish adds sausage and cherry peppers, making it heavier and a full meal by itself.
This dish or a variation of it can be found on nearly every Italian restaurant's menu in the NY metro area. And the combination is so popular, many pizzerias also use it on pizzas.
Sausage with broccoli rabe and pasta is the perfect dish to whip up when you want to make something easy, but is equally fitting to serve to a large group or family gathering.
Which Pasta Goes Best with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage?
There is no debate here - orecchiette is the most widely used pasta to pair with broccoli rabe and sausage. I attribute this to its shape.
The word "orecchiette" translates to "little ears" in Italian. The shape is circular with a shallow divet in the center.
When I think about pasta shapes, which I probably do more than the average human, I can't think of a shape more perfect for capturing bits of sausage, broccoli rabe, and cherry peppers than orecchiette.
If you can't locate this shape of pasta where you are, you can certainly use other pasta shapes. When doing so, try and look for pasta that will allow the bits of food to nest within them. Rigatoni or fusilli immediately come to mind as good alternatives. Medium shells would also be great! I used them in my recipe for pasta with pancetta and peas.
In this recipe, I'm using sweet fennel pork sausage. I love how the fennel flavor adds another dimension to this dish.
However, you could easily use spicy Italian pork sausage, or even chicken sausage.
I also recommend buying sausage that is out of the casing for this dish. Otherwise, you can remove the sausage from the casing yourself.
As far as the broccoli rabe goes, I get that it is not for everyone. It is a bitter green. Its bitterness is one of the things I love about it. You could substitute with regular broccoli, broccolini, escarole, or even spinach.
I always add cherry peppers to this dish, but other additions that work well include diced bell peppers or roasted red peppers.
How to Make It
- Cut off and discard the bottom 1 inch of the broccoli rabe. Chop the broccoli rabe into 2-3 inch long pieces.
- Chop your garlic into chunks. You can chop smaller if you wish.
- Slice the cherry peppers. Alternatively, you can use "Hoagie Spread", which is finely chopped red cherry peppers. This is also a good time to chop your parsley.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the broccoli rabe for 2-3 minutes and set aside to cool. To the same pot of water, add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and the orecchiette pasta. Cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than the box instructions for al dente, reserving some pasta water for later.
- In a large pan, saute the sausage until cooked through over medium heat. Remove the sausage from the pan and set it aside.
- In the same pan, add a ¼ cup of olive oil and the chopped garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes). Return the sausage to the pan and turn the heat back to medium.
- Add the cherry peppers to the sausage and garlic mixture and continue to saute for 2 minutes.
- Add the blanched broccoli rabe to the pan and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Mix well to incorporate all of the flavors.
- Add a cup of pasta water to the pan and cook for one minute more.
- Add the al dente pasta and toss it all together to combine the flavors. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the pasta is fully cooked to al dente specifications. Taste test, adding any salt or pepper to your satisfaction.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped fresh parsley.
- Top with extra virgin olive oil. Give it another mix, and if too dry, add another ounce or two of pasta water. Serve with more cherry peppers and grated cheese. Enjoy!
If You Like Broccoli Rabe and Other Greens
I love greens, especially when they're made with olive oil and garlic. If you are looking to get more green veggies into your life, check out these dishes:
- Chicken and broccoli rabe - Easy dish with pan-seared chicken, broccoli rabe, cherry peppers, and mozzarella.
- Pasta with broccoli - The classic with soft broccoli, garlic, and grated cheese.
- Beans and greens sausage pasta - Escarole and spinach with sausage and rigatoni.
- Roasted broccolini with breadcrumbs and pignoli - Perfect side dish.
- Sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and oil - Works well with almost any meal!
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- 1 pound orecchiette
- 1 ½ pounds Italian sausage removed from casing
- 4 large cherry (vinegar) peppers chopped with seeds and stems removed
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe chopped into 2" pieces
- 10 cloves garlic chopped
- ¼ cup parsley minced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 ½ cups reserved pasta water
- Cut off and discard the bottom1 inch of broccoli rabe. Chop the broccoli rabe into 2-3 inch long pieces.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the broccoli rabe for 2-3 minutes and set aside to cool. To the same pot of boiling water add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and the orecchiette pasta. Cook pasta 1-2 minutes less than box instructions (al dente).
- In your largest pan saute the sausage until cooked through over medium heat. Remove the sausage from the pan and set it aside.
- In the same pan add a ¼ cup of olive oil and the chopped garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes). Add the cherry peppers and return the sausage to the pan. Turn the heat back to medium and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Add the broccoli rabe to the pan and mix everything together to combine the flavors. Add a cup of pasta water to the pan and cook for 1 minute more. Add in the al dente and cook until done (about 1-2 minutes).
- Taste test and make final adjustments to salt and pepper. When satisfied turn off the heat and add in the parsley and the extra virgin olive oil. Mix once more and serve. If the pasta is too dry just add a couple of ounces of pasta water at a time to bring the consistency back to perfect. Serve with more cherry peppers and grated cheese. Enjoy!
- Make sure to remove the hard bottom 1 inch of the broccoli rabe.
- Cook pasta al dente so that it can be finished in the sausage and pasta water to acquire more flavor.
- If the pasta dries out prior to serving, just revive it with a few ounces of pasta water. Always save your pasta water!
- Salt to taste. The amount of salt required will be dictated by the sausage used. Some brands are way saltier than others.
- Leftovers can be saved in the fridge for up to 3 days.