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Italian sausage pasta is a one-bowl family dinner that never gets old! This robust dish features pasta paired with a meaty garlic-olive oil sauce with broccoli rabe (rapini), chili pepper and pecorino cheese.
Italian sausage pasta made with ground sausage is one of the best family-friendly, meal-in-one-bowl dinners you can make.
Along with a big handful of my favorite hearty greens, broccoli rabe, you have a delicious, nutritious meal in one bowl!
This an Italian-style pasta dish that’s pretty much on nonstop weekly rotation in our house.
About broccoli rabe
Broccoli rabe, also called rapini, is a dark, leafy green with a robust bitter flavor. Bundles of broccoli rabe were a regular sight when I was growing up in an Italian-American family in New England.
Broccoli rabe has entered the mainstream and is more available in markets all over the country. Thank goodness, because this leafy green vegetable is full of flavor and nutrients.
My grandmother usually put a bowl of super long-cooked broccoli rabe on the table on Sundays to satisfy those in the family who enjoyed its distinctive taste.
But when I moved away from home it was harder to track down in other places, and I almost forgot how delicious it is.
A California produce company came up with the fantastic idea to sell this one-time niche vegetable as a superfood on par with kale. It’s definitely gained traction in the food world, showing up not only in Italian cuisine, but in recipes inspired by global cooking.
How to prepare and cook broccoli rabe (rapini)
- Trim off the bottom tough stems of the broccoli rabe, reserving the more tender upper stems.
- Lay the bunch on your cutting board and chop the greens and stems all into large bite-size pieces.
- Blanch the greens for one or two minutes in boiling salted water.
- Drain and add to your pasta recipe, or briefly cook in a skillet with olive oil, garlic and a pinch of red chili.
I added chopped fennel bulb to this sausage pasta recipe to double down on the flavors in Italian sausage, which is often seasoned with fennel seeds. It tastes so good with everything else in the dish — garlic, chili, pasta, olive oil. But, I know that fresh fennel is not always available. Not to worry! The dish will taste fantastic without it.
Tips and variations
- Instead of broccoli rabe, try making this pasta with other leafy vegetables you have on hand, like spinach or kale.
- Use any other short pasta shape you love, such as orecchiette or ziti.
- Learn more about broccoli rabe with a simple recipe and shopping tips.
Tip: If you can find Pecorino Toscano in your market, use it! It’s a sheep’s milk cheese a lot like aged Romano, only it’s less aged and not quite as salty. It’s a little more melty in texture and delicious to use in pasta dishes. Parmesan cheese is always a good choice.
Spicy Sausage Pasta with Broccoli Rabe
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ¼ pounds (560 g) bulk Italian sausage, hot or sweet, made with pork, turkey or chicken
- ¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small (225 g) fennel bulb, thinly sliced (optional)
- Kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), stems trimmed
- 1 pound (450 g) rigatoni or other short chunky pasta such as orecchiette
- ½ cup (75 g) grated pecorino Romano cheese, or an equal mixture of grated fresh pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheeses
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large (12-14-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage and add to the pan. Cook until the sausage is cooked and browned, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Scoop out the sausage to a plate.
- Pour the wine in the pan and let it bubble for a minute, while scraping up the brown juices. Lower the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Stir in the red onion and fennel (if using), along with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook without browning (adjust the heat if necessary), until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts water to a boil and add 3 tablespoons kosher salt.
- Chop the broccoli rabe bunch into halves or thirds. Add to the boiling water and cook 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to colander set into a large bowl.
- Add the pasta to the water. While the pasta cooks, stir the garlic and crushed chili to taste (I start with ½ teaspoon) into the skillet with the sausage. Scoop out about ¼ cup of the boiling pasta water and add to the pan to loosen the sauce.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain, and reserve another ¼ cup or so of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan along with the broccoli rabe and stir everything together over low heat. Dribble in more water and olive oil as needed to keep it saucy (but not too liquidy).
- Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with lightly chopped fennel frond tops, and the cheese.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Leftovers will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator. If the pasta has absorbed the sauce, reheat with a few splashes of chicken stock or broth.
- To prep broccoli rabe: Trim off the bottom stems of the broccoli rabe, reserving the more tender upper stems. Lay the bunch on your cutting board and chop the greens and stems all into large bite-size pieces.
More Weeknight Pasta Recipes:
Hey, I’m Karen
Creator of Familystyle Food
I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.