One of the best one-dish pasta recipes – rigatoni with Italian sausage, fresh fennel, broccoli rabe and pecorino Toscano cheese.
Here’s a recipe for rigatoni with sausage, fresh fennel and broccoli rabe, a pasta dish pretty much on nonstop weekly rotation in our house.
That is, ever since a few years back, when broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) began to appear in produce sections more reliably.
The dark green, leafy bundles were a regular sight when I was growing up in an Italian-American part of New England. My grandmother usually put a bowl of long-cooked rabe on the table on Sundays to satisfy those in the family who enjoyed its bitter, robust 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 someone at Andy Boy, the California produce company that grows the best broccoli rabe (IMO), who came up with the fantastic idea to start marketing this onetime niche vegetable as a superfood on par with kale. It has gained traction in the food world, showing up not only in Italian cuisine, but in recipes inspired by global cooking.
I’ve added fresh fennel bulb to this rigatoni sausage recipe because it tastes so good with everything in the dish — garlic, chili, pasta, olive oil — and also to double down on the flavors in Italian sausage, most versions of which are seasoned with fennel seeds.
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, take a look at this simple way to shop for and cook it, with olive oil and garlic.
Pecorino Toscano is a sheep’s milk cheese I love to use in pasta dishes. It’s softer and not quite as salty as the more aged Romano, and it’s nice and melty on the hot pasta.
rigatoni with spicy sausage, fresh fennel and broccoli rabe
Yield 4 - 6 servings
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 pounds Italian sausage, hot or sweet, removed from casings
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound thinly sliced fresh fennel, fronds trimmed and reserved
- Kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Crushed dried red chili
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), stems trimmed
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- 3/4 cup grated pecorino Toscano cheese, or an equal mixture of grated fresh pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano 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, reserving 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 watery).
- Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with lightly chopped fennel frond tops, and the cheese.