There are two pasta recipes I go back to again and again, and this is one of them. I'll share the other favorite within the next few days. Both of the recipes call for Orecchiette (or "Little Ears" shape) pasta. Although you can use other small pasta, the quality of the pasta you choose will determine the outcome.
Here is my favorite brand of orecchiette.
Click to enlarge to see the beautiful texture and shape. Oooh, it's so good!
It's available at a couple of stores in the San Francisco Bay area, or can be ordered via the internet at Italian Harvest, the San Francisco company (husband & wife team) who import it:
It may be available elsewhere in North America, but I haven't found any other sources. Italian Harvest sells all kinds of Italian products as well as the artisanal pastas, you may want to look around their site for other goodies. I've always been satisfied with their prompt delivery and customer service.
If you cannot find this particular brand, I urge you to seek out another high quality imported Italian orecchiette, it costs a little more but makes a huge difference in your dining experience.
Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
Serves 4 to 6
Although the recipe calls for roasted peppers, I most often swap them out for fresh, diced tomatoes if they are in season, I like the fresh flavor better. I use the jarred roasted peppers in the winter when fresh tomatoes often aren't so good. Another good substitute in winter are sundried tomatoes, cut into strips.
4 ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed (My country meat store sells their wonderful house-made Italian sausage in 8 ounce package, I use the entire 8 ounces in this recipe.) I'm sure you could substitute Turkey Italian sausage if you prefer.
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and chopped medium (As noted, I prefer the fresh diced tomatoes when in season, or sun-dried tomatoes)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch broccoli (1 1/2 pounds), florets cut into 1 -inch pieces and stalks peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick. (For this recipe I just buy broccoli crowns, so there is less stalk to deal with.)
Salt to taste
A pinch of Red pepper flakes if you like it spicy
1/2 cup water
1 pound of dried orecchiette (I usually use about 8 to 10 ounces)
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the orecchiette.
Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with a spatual or spoon, until browned. Stir in the roasted red peppers (if using) and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 tsp. salt, and water. Increase the heat to high, cover the skillet and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2 minutes.
Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes longer.
When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the orecchiette. Cook, stirring often, until the orecchiette is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite.
Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the orecchiette and return it to the pot.
Stir in the sausage and broccoli mixture, the fresh, diced tomatoes, oil, and toss to coat.
Add the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen mixture before serving.
I pass the grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano at the table so each diner can add their own.
Inspired by: "America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook"