Pasta with sausage, broccoli rabe and white beans is a classic combination that needs its own name. While you’re thinking of one, check out our recipe.
Neither one of us grew up in an Italian family. We didn’t have childhoods where there was always a lasagne baking away in the kitchen, twenty people crammed into a dining room, cheerfully shouting at one another to pass the meatballs, Dad sitting at the head of the table with his slicked-back hair, pencil moustache, eating slices of orange, two bodyguards at the door … you know what, I’m thinking of “The Godfather” there, that’s what that is.
Of course, it’s easy to get inspiration from Italian cuisine – there are are a handful of classic pasta dishes that we fall back on for dinner parties or quick weeknight meals, and I think this might be one of our favorites – it’s cheap, easy and phenomenally delicious. We make it all the time.
This recipe for pasta with sausage, broccoli rabe and white beans is based on a classic Italian dish in which purists will want to use orecchiette. I didn’t want to limit your options, which is why I just titled this post “pasta” – but be aware that not all pastas will work well. For a long time, we favored wholewheat penne frigate from Bionaturae, which we found was one of the only really good wholewheat brands. We also tried chiocciole, but found it a little too bulky – it’s not a very saucy dish the way we cook it, so you need a pasta without too much “hollowness”. My current choice is casareccia from Di Martino, but whichever you choose, check the cooking time on the packet and be sure to cook it just to the al dente stage, if not 30 seconds less.
With this dish, everything gets cooked separately and then thrown together, so as with any other recipe, you need to make sure you’re starting with really good ingredients.
We used to make this dish with fantastic turkey sausage from DiPaola’s, who run stalls at the farmers’ markets in NYC, but we’re too far out now to get a regular supply. Now, we’re getting Italian sweet sausage from our friend Stacey at Beacon Pantry, which has really good Arthur Avenue sausages. We’ve tried other options – chicken seasoned with broccoli rabe in the sausage, for example, but they weren’t anywhere near as good, so I’d advise you stick to really good turkey or Italian sweet sausage.
A lot of recipes mention ways to cut down the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Personally, I think that flavor is one of the best features of the dish – fresh rabe has a great horse-radish taste to it. You do want to make sure you’re not serving huge thick stems though, unless you take the time to cook them longer, so cut off the very ends, and pare them down with a vegetable peeler if they’re especially thick. You can also substitute other greens if you’d prefer, like turnip greens, spinach, or chard.
And finally, the white beans aren’t typical for this dish, but we tried it once as an experiment and thought it combined so well with the other ingredients that we left them in. And there you have it: pasta with sausage, broccoli rabe and white beans. If you can come up with a name for this dish, let us know, because we’re buggered if we can.
- Don’t be afraid to get a good sear on the sausage – leave them for at least 5 minutes before you turn them in the pan.
- Don’t add oil to the pasta water since you want the starch of the pasta to help it combine with everything else (thanks to Lidia Bastianich for that tip!)
- 3 sweet Italian sausages or ¾ lb sausagemeat, broken into small chunks (8-10 per link)
- 1 large bunch broccoli rabe (1.5 lb), roughly chopped
- 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ lb dried orecchiette (or any short, curly pasta)
- 3-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Good olive oil
- Parmesan or reggiano cheese, grated or thinly sliced, to serve
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil.
- Cut off and discard the lower part of the broccoli rabe stems, leaving the broccoli about 8 inches long. Remove any large tough leaves. If the stems are very thick, you can peel the lower part with a vegetable peeler. Removing the peel takes out some of the bitterness. Cut the stems into roughly 2-inch lengths. Wash the broccoli and set it aside to dry in a salad spinner or colander.
- Remove the casings from the sausage and crumble it. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat and cook until the sausage is no longer pink, about 7 - 10 minutes. When the sausage is brown and just cooked through, remove it with a slotted spoon onto a plate and set aside.
- If there’s fat in the pan, pour it out and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic, pepper flakes and beans and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package directions.
- In the skillet with the garlic, add the broccoli rabe and toss it until it begins to wilt. Cover the pan and steam the broccoli until wilted and bright green, about 4 minutes. Taste and season lightly with salt and pepper. (if the broccoli is getting too dry and starting to brown, add a few tablespoons of the pasta water).
- When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve about a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the broccoli mixture and add back the sausage and about a ½ cup of grated cheese. Stir and toss well over low heat to combine, adjusting the consistency by adding some of the cooking water, a little at a time, as needed.
- Divide the pasta among bowls, top each portion with a sprinkle of cheese and a little drizzle of your best olive oil.