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. 

Platter of orecchiette, sausage, broccoli rabe, and cherry peppers.

 

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.

 

Variations

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

  1. Cut off and discard the bottom 1 inch of the broccoli rabe.  Chop the broccoli rabe into 2-3 inch long pieces.  
  2. Chop your garlic into chunks.  You can chop smaller if you wish.

Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe process shot collage group number one.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In a large pan, saute the sausage until cooked through over medium heat.  Remove the sausage from the pan and set it aside.
  4. In the same pan, add a 1/4 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.

Recipe process shot collage group number two.

  1. Add the cherry peppers to the sausage and garlic mixture and continue to saute for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the blanched broccoli rabe to the pan and continue to saute for 2 minutes.  Mix well to incorporate all of the flavors.
  3. Add a cup of pasta water to the pan and cook for one minute more.  
  4. 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.

Recipe process shot collage group number three.

  1. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped fresh parsley. 
  2. 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!

Overhead shot of orecchiette, sausage, and broccoli rabe.

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:

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Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

5 from 19 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
Tiny morsels of sweet fennel sausage, garlicky broccoli rabe, and spicy cherry peppers nest within the tiny crevices of orecchiette pasta to form the ultimate pasta meal!

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 1 1/2 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
  • 1/4 cup parsley minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups reserved pasta water

Instructions 

  • 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 1/4 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!

Notes

  • 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 779kcal | Carbohydrates: 48.1g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 51g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 150mg | Sodium: 895mg | Potassium: 728mg | Fiber: 2.1g | Sugar: 1.3g | Calcium: 71mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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36 Comments

  1. Also, I forgot to mention that I left the sweet fennel sausage as coins. First time, I de asked it, and this was better, I thought.

    James, your recipes are amazing, and easy to follow, and very forgiving. I have shared them with many people

    1. There was a weird lag when I was typing this.

      I meant to say that I decased the sausage the first time I made it, but found that coins worked better for me.

  2. 5 stars
    I have made this twice, and the second time was much better. Both times, I finely diced a fennel bulb, but 2nd time I also finely diced a shallot. Sauted them until translucent before adding garlic and cherry peppers. Seasoned rapini with Old Bay after blanching, as I do to almost all steamed/blanched vegatables these days. Otherwise, followed it pretty much exactly. Fantastic recipe!

  3. 5 stars
    Hi Jim & Tara,

    Already made this recipe a few months ago and was the best and ever so delicious and easy to make. Love all your recipes and videos, especially with the kiddos and Tara!

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve watched the video several times and made it with broccoli rabe, broccolini, broccoli, and even Swiss chard. I love them all. Thank you‼️

  5. 5 stars
    Delicious recipe. Not a big fan of sausage, but it was great in this particular dish. I left out the peppers and it was still good. Really enjoy all of the recipies you show and watching the videos.

  6. 5 stars
    Made this for the first time. Although I didn’t have any cherry peppers because my store didn’t have any, it was still delicious. Hubby liked it, too.

  7. 5 stars
    Hi Jim, your demeanor while preparing the recipe video is so kind and welcoming. Definitely not intimidating like some highly schooled chefs! Your mentor style explanations make me believe I can prepare every single recipe. And this one’s truly a winner! Thank you!

    1. Hi Carole, I really appreciate your feedback and comment; thank you! I’m so happy you enjoyed this recipe!

  8. This is one of my favorite dishes. I am going to try your recipe. Does blanching the broccoli rabe in the same pot you are cooking your pasta in make the pasta bitter?
    I am fortunate to live in Fairfield County, CT. We have a great little Italian Resturant that I often order this.

    1. Hi Claudia, thanks for the comment. I don’t find that it makes the pasta bitter, but if you’re concerned about that you can certainly boil in fresh water.

  9. 5 stars
    Used regular broccoli. It was still delicious. I didn’t have any cherry peppers so I subbed with some chili sauce Will try it with chicken sausage next time.