I always say that broccoli rabe is a very controversial vegetable. Many people don't like the bitterness of rabe and people are often scared away from cooking it because they don't know how to get the right flavor from it. The key to perfecting broccoli rabe, I learned from my girlfriend, is a little bit of sugar. For whatever reason, sugar creates the perfect sweet balance to the bitter green and makes it a lot friendlier and less intimidating. Other elements that will remove bitterness are sausage and ricotta. A classic Italian dish is orecchiette with sausage, broccoli, rabe, and ricotta. Orecchiette literally means small ear as it is a pasta that resembles the shape of an ear. What is nice about using this type of pasta in this dish is that the orecchiette act as little bowls that hold the ricotta and sausage, making each bite complete and full of all flavors of the dish. The result is a creamy, salty, rich dish that is surprisingly easy to make. The version I made was beautiful and satisfying with a nice balance of sweet and salt with a bit of spice and creaminess to top it off.
The first step in the dish is to cut and steam the broccoli rabe. The stems are the most bitter part of the vegetable, so you will want to remove the leaves from the stems with a knife or by hand. Then setup a steaming tray over boiling water and steam the rabe for 3-5 minutes, tossing every minute or two until it's wilted. You'll be cooking it more in the sauce, so it doesn't have to be totally soft after steaming. Once the rabe is at the desired doneness, run it under cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.
The next step is the sausage. Ideally you want to buy bulk sweet or hot Italian sausage, but if you can't find bulk, you can buy the sausage in the casing and just squeeze the meat out when you're prepping the meal (doing this may look or feel gross, but I'm sure you can make someone laugh while doing it.) Then you heat a large pan (ideally cast iron, because you should default to a cast iron for most meals) and add the sausage with a little bit of oil to keep the meat from burning. Break the meat up with a wooden spoon and cook until starting to brown. Add onions and garlic and sautee with the meat until translucent. Add the broccoli rabe, some salt, pepper, white sugar, and crushed red pepper and cook for another few minutes. As all of this is happening, you should bring a big pot of water to a boil and cook the orecchiette. The pasta is on the thicker side, so it will probably take 12-14 minutes to get to the desired doneness. Once the pasta is done drain it, add it to the pan with the sausage and rabe and stir through. For the final step, add 3 healthy spoonfuls of ricotta and mix throughout. The result will be a rich creamy sauce that is full of flavor and only took about 30 minutes to make!
1 box orecchiette
1 bunch broccoli rabe leaves cut from the stems and roughly chopped
2 sweet Italian sausages squeezed from the casing or bulk
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup ricotta
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
- Bring a pot with about 1 inch of water to a boil and in a steaming tray, steam the broccoli rabe for 3-5 minutes tossing every minute or two until leaves are bright and soft
- Run rabe under cold water to stop cooking
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil
- Heat olive oil in a large cast iron pan on medium and add sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon until starting to brown
- Add onions and garlic and sautee for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally
- While onions are cooking, cook the orecchiette for 12-14 minutes in boiling water, stirring often to keep the pasta from sticking together
- To the sausage pan, add rabe, sugar, crusher red pepper, salt and pepper and lower heat to medium low
- Drain pasta when done reserving a little bit of water, add to pan with the sausage (or if the pan with the sausage is too small, pour the sausage and rabe on top of the pasta in the big pot after draining)
- Scoop the ricotta over the pasta and mix thoroughly
- Let sit for a few minutes for ricotta to melt and thicken on the pasta and serve