A one-bowl family dinner — Broccoli rabe (rapini), pasta and Italian sausage with fresh fennel and pecorino cheese.
Here’s a broccoli rabe pasta dish that’s pretty much on nonstop weekly rotation in our house.
Italian sausage pasta is one of the best family-friendly, meal-in-one-bowl dinners you can make.
Along with handfuls of greens like spinach or my favorite, broccoli rabe, you have a delicious, nutritious meal.
What is 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 part of New England.
However, it wasn’t until fairly recently that broccoli rabe entered the mainstream and began to appear more reliably in markets all over the country.
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 to other parts of the country, it was harder to track down, and I almost forgot how delicious it is.
I thank the smart marketing at Andy Boy, the California produce company that grows what I think is the best broccoli rabe.
They 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 – leave on the upper stems.
- Lay the bunch on your cutting board and chop it 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’ve added fresh fennel bulb to this broccoli rabe pasta recipe because it tastes so good with everything else in the dish — garlic, chili, pasta, olive oil.
But, it’s not a necessity – if you don’t have it (or don’t like fennel) just leave it out.
I threw it in because I love to double down on the flavors in Italian sausage, which is often seasoned with fennel seeds.
Pasta with Italian sausage and spinach
Speaking of healthy greens, try making this pasta with other leafy vegetables you have on hand, like spinach, say, or — kale!
And if you love broccoli rabe, here’s a simple recipe with shopping tips.
If you can find Pecorino Toscano use it! It’s is a sheep’s milk cheese a lot like aged Romano, only less aged and not quite as salty. It’s a little more melty in texture and delicious to use in pasta dishes.
Broccoli Rabe Pasta with Italian Sausage
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 pounds (560 g) Italian sausage, hot or sweet, removed from casings
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound (225 g) thinly sliced fresh fennel, fronds trimmed and reserved (optional)
- Kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Crushed dried red chili
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), stems trimmed
- 1 pound (450 g) rigatoni or other short chunky pasta such as orecchiette
- 3/4 cup (75 g) grated pecorino Romano cheese, or an equal mixture of grated fresh pecorino Romano and Parmigiano 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. 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 more olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, red onion and fennel, along with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook without browning (adjust the heat if necessary), until the vegetables are tender, about 12 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 1/2 teaspoon) into the pan with the fennel. Scoop out about 1/4 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 1/4 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 watery).
- Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with lightly chopped fennel frond tops, and the cheese.