This post has been updated for recipe, photographs and content since its original publication in 2014.
This classic Italian combination makes a quick and easy dinner that your family will request again and again. Orecchiette, Sausage and Broccoli Rabe is quick and easy to make, even for weeknight dinners. Broccoli rabe, a bitter cruciferous green, blends wonderfully with the flavors of Italian sausage and pops of sweet sun dried tomatoes. Tossed with al dente pasta in a light wine sauce, this simple Italian dinner can’t be beat.
Orecchiette with sausage & broccoli rabe
You’re in for a real treat today! This Italian dish checks all of the boxes. Sausage and broccoli rabe is a classic Italian combination and pairing them with tender al dente pasta (and a few other flavor bombs) will take this traditional favorite to the next level.
It’s spicy, savory and flavorful without being weighed down by heavy cream sauces or laden under a blanket of cheese.
Bonus, this lip-smacking pasta recipe is ready to eat within 30-40 minutes (depending on if you’re sipping a glass of wine while cooking… ahem – no judgement here.)
Ingredients for pasta sausage & broccoli rabe
- Orecchiette Pasta
- Italian Sausage (Sweet or Hot)
- Button or Cremini Mushrooms
- Olive Oil
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
- Sun Dried Tomatoes packed in oil
- Broccoli Rabe
- White Wine
- Parmigiano Reggiano
Mise en place
I can’t say enough about mise en place. That’s the French concept of “everything in its place” but what it really means is that all your ingredients are prepped and ready to go, before you start cooking.
That way you can actually assemble the dish seamlessly without stopping in the middle to perform a prep task (i.e. slicing mushrooms).
Timing is everything
I usually put a big pot of water on to boil (for the pasta) just before I start to assemble this dish. That way, by the time I’m done prepping the sausage and mushrooms, the water is ready to cook the pasta and everything comes out at about the same time.
Which sausage is best for orecchiette and broccoli rabe?
You can use either hot or mild Italian sausage for this recipe, depending on your tastes. If you don’t like spicy food, use the mild sausage and omit the pepper flakes.
I used mild Italian sausage and added a scant teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes for more zip. If you’re using hot Italian sausage, you can probably skip the extra crushed red pepper flakes, unless you want it REALLY SPICY.
Before you brown the sausage, you need to remove it from the casings. (If you have bulk sausage or already know how to do this, you can skip this part.)
I’m only mentioning how to get the sausage out of the casing because I saw a blogger (who shall remain nameless) mention that you should trim the end of the casing and “squeeze out the sausage”.
Um, no. It’s not a tube of toothpaste, folks.
This is easier, more efficient and you’ll use all of the meat instead of leaving half of it in the casing.
Removing Italian sausage from casings
- Use a sharp knife and make a slit down the length of each casing.
- Peel the casing back and remove the sausage.
The sausage link will come out in one piece, without waste and it won’t look like a lump of Play-Doh. You’re welcome.
Browning the sausage and mushrooms
- Heat a 12″ skillet over medium high heat for about 45 seconds to a minute. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. The oil will slick across the pan and shimmer.
- Carefully add the sausage (it will splatter) and use a wooden spoon to break it up into small crumbles while browning.
- Transfer the browned sausage to a small bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and crushed red pepper flakes (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally until they’ve given up most of their liquid and have browned.
- Add the sausage back to the pan and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes with a little oil from the jar and a good glue of white wine.
- Simmer to reduce the wine by about half.
What is broccoli rabe?
Don’t confuse broccoli rabe with broccoli or broccolini — it’s a cruciferous veg that’s actually a member of the Brassiceae (mustard family), related to bok choy and turnips. Also known as rapini, the buds aren’t the only edible parts to this veg. In fact, after trimming the ends of the stems, the entire stalk is edible, from the stems, to the leaves and those broccoli mimicking buds.
What does rapini taste like?
Broccoli rabe tends to be a bit bitter, which is what makes it a perfect pairing with Italian sausage and sweet sun dried tomatoes. That said, blanching can soften the bitter flavor — and I’ve got an easy way to kill two birds with one stone (so to speak).
What is orecchiette?
Orecchiette are little cup-shaped pasta, common in the Apulia region (Puglia) of Southern Italy. “Orecchia” is Italian for “ear” and “etta” means “small”. So officially a small ear-shaped pasta, it tends to be a little thicker than most pastas giving these little ears a wonderful al-dente chew.
This type of pasta works well for this recipe because little bits of sausage, broccoli rabe and sun dried tomato will catch and settle into the hollow of the orecchiette. You could also use small shell pasta, but they tend to be thinner and won’t have as much body.
Cooking pasta and blanching broccoli rabe
Read the label on your pasta. It should tell you how long to cook for “al dente”. Now take that number and subtract 2 minutes. That’s the moment you put the chopped broccoli rabe into the pot with the pasta.
The orecchiette will finish cooking and 2 minutes is just right for blanching the broccoli rabe and removing a bit of the bitterness.
This is my “cheater’s method” of not dirtying another pot.
Assembling the dish
Now here’s the trick — don’t drain the pasta.
- Instead, use a slotted spoon or kitchen spider to transfer the blanched broccoli rabe and orecchiette to the pan with the sausage, mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes.
- Ladle a little pasta water into the pan — (I usually use between 1/2 to 1 cup, but you can use more if needed) until it’s saucy, but not swimming.
- Stir in a knob of butter to give the pasta dish a glossy, finished look and taste.
Finish with grated cheese
Freshly grated cheese is the perfect final flourish to this quick and easy recipe. I recommend Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Try to avoid the pre-grated cheese in the plastic tubs – it’s really best when you do it yourself.
My husband LOVES it when I make this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. He knows he’s in for a big treat — and because it’s one of his favorites, he’ll even help by grating the cheese and keeping my wine glass filled.
This Italian pasta recipe is really a meal unto itself, but if you want ideas on what to serve with it, I’d advise a nice green salad, soft rolls or warm, crusty Italian bread and of course a sippable white or red wine.
More Italian pasta dishes you might like:
- Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter Sauce
- Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Cognac Cream
- Italian Roasted Vegetable and Sausage Pasta
- Spicy Sausage and Spinach Lasagna
- Mushroom and Kale Stuffed Shells
Orecchiette Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
- 12" skillet with lid
- 1 pound orecchiette pasta or small shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage sweet or spicy, removed from casings, crumbled
- 8 ounces white or cremini mushrooms sliced
- scant 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional) (skip if you're using hot Italian sausage)
- 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil drained, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon oil from the sun dried tomatoes
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe tough ends trimmed, chopped into 2" pieces
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon butter
- reserved pasta water from cooked orecchiette
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
FOR THE PASTA:
- Start the water heating for the pasta while you prepare the sausage and broccoli rabe. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add a generous pinch of kosher salt to season it.
FOR THE SAUSAGE AND SUN DRIED TOMATOES:
- Place a large 12" skillet over a medium high heat for 45 seconds to a minute until the pan is hot. Add the olive oil and when it slicks across the pan, add the sausage to brown. Break apart the meat with the back of a wooden spoon until it's crumbled and browned.
- Transfer the sausage to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.
- Add the mushrooms and crushed red pepper flakes (if using). Saute, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms give up their liquid and begin to brown, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add the sausage back to the pan and stir in the sun dried tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of oil from the sun dried tomato jar. Cook for 1-2 minutes to heat through then add the the wine, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the wine has reduced by half.
COOK THE PASTA AND BROCCOLI RABE:
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until it's 2 minutes before al dente according to the package directions. Add the chopped broccoli rabe to the orecchiette and blanch for 1 to 2 minutes or until just tender and bright green.
- Do not drain the pasta through a colander. Instead, use a kitchen spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta and broccoli rabe to the pan with the sausage. Stir in the butter and reserved pasta water 1/4 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy but not liquidy.
- Top with parmesan cheese and serve.