Orecchiette con Broccoli e Salsiccia (Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage)
Marzo Is Pazzo
In Italy, we often say, “Marzo è pazzo….March is crazy.” My adopted hometown of Agerola is particularly neurotic the entire month of March. Gale force winds blow up from costal Amalfi to create cyclones of plastic recyclables, vineyard trellises, garden vegetables… It rains for days. Then a glimpse of sublime sun might peak above our mountains only to fade again and leave us to our seasonal depression.
Last week we had especially operatic weather. With fierce winds tearing through Agerola, Giuseppe’s mother woke up uncharacteristically early one morning, stalked into the kitchen and shouted, “Where are my sausages?” I struggled for a moment to grasp why she woke at 7am (her usual wake-up time is roughly noon) to determine the location of a missing, but apparently treasured pork product.
Noticing the look of mild confusion on my face, Mamma plaintively explained she was looking for her ‘door sausages,’ little cylindrical bean bags that many locals use to protect door cracks from blustery wind (vaguely akin to the improvised liners one might have used in a college dormitory to prevent certain ‘fumes’ from traveling astray). Mamma’s door sausages were in fact long gone after Giuseppe secretly threw them away along with about 150 kilos of hoarded household materials from the last three decades. Unfortunately, Mamma has a mind like a steel trap and a preternatural ability to sniff out fibs. She knew that those door sausages were tossed asunder and she had woken up early to give me hell.
After a spirited diatribe on the finer points of her son’s general uselessness, Mamma launched into a surprisingly charismatic rendition of Ave Maria. Finishing her aria/prayer, she looked heaven ward and bawled, “My son is a shit!” And naturally, at that precise moment, a furious wind tore through our house, the power went out and our glass front door burst into shrapnel. Apparently satisfied and spent, mamma surveyed the damage, thrust her fist into the air and shouted, “Thank you, God.” She retreated to her bedroom. I stared at the glass on the floor.
Within approximately one hour, news of our household drama and broken door had traveled across Agerola. Out of either pity or curiosity, a neighbor showed up at our (broken) door that afternoon with a basket of local spicarielli. I thanked him and smiled, thinking this insouciantly bitter winter green (which resemebles broccoli rabe) would be the perfect way to conclude our crazy March afternoon. I never found mamma’s door sausages so in a cheeky nod to her, I added a little sausage to our greens and served this dish.
By the end of the day, we were all (sort of) back to normal, and of course, it being Naples, our door remains unfixed…..At some point crazy March will end. In the meantime we will eat, and I will drink and we will all sometimes be merry. And if it all really goes to pot, then we can just sing an Ave Maria.
Resembling cime de rapa (broccoli rabe) in taste and texture, spicarielli is a late winter green that is found across Campania. Cime di rapa, which is native to Puglia literally means ‘turnip tops’ and grows from a bulb. Spicareile on the other hand does not grow from a bulb and is slightly more tender than the more ubiquitous broccoli rabe. For this recipe, I suggest finding broccoli rabe, often available in Asian super markets or if really pressed, one can use regular (boring) broccoli.
If you prefer you can serve a version of this dish without pasta. It will be equally fulfilling and can be served as a side or a main dish.
Orecchiette con Broccoli e Salsiccia (Little Ear Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage)
Serves 6 as primo
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ lb fresh spicy Italian sausage, casings removed and sausage crumbled
3 garlic cloves, separated but with skin still on (as we say in Italian, in “camacia,” which literally means in garlic in its “shirt”)
1lb broccoli rabe
1 teaspoon Salt
Red pepper flakes (to taste)
1lb dried orecchiette pasta
Grated Parmesan (to taste)
Heat olive oil in large heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium heat.
Add crumbled sausage and brown on all sides, stirring occasional with a wooden spatula (about five minutes).
Remove sausage with slotted spoon and set aside on paper towel lined plate.
Add garlic to olive oil and rendered sausage fat and cook, stirring occasionally for two minutes.
Remove garlic and discard (or reserve for other use).
Add Broccoli Rabe to pan and sauté stirring occasional for five minutes.
Add salt, red pepper flakes and stir to coat Rabe.
Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. (In Puglia it is more traditional to boil the Rabe with your pasta. I no longer cook it this way because I feel much of the Rabe’s nutrients and taste are lost when fiercely boiling in pasta water. This is merely a personal preference.)
While Rabe is simmering, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil.
When water has reached a full boil, add Orecchiette, stir briefly with a wooden spoon to prevent pasta from sticking and cook until just al dente (about 7 minutes).
Drain Orecchiette and reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add sausage, Orecchiette and 1/3 cup pasta cooking liquid to Broccoli Rabe.
Raise heat to medium and stir to mix Rabe, Orecchiette and sausage (for roughly 2 minutes).
Plate in shallow bowls and top with grated parmesan to taste.