Home Is Where “The Pasta” Is

Whenever I travel, no matter how far or for how long, I am always happy to return home to my kitchen. Often I’m eager to try new dishes inspired by memorable meals I encountered during my trip, but for the first meal at home, I will always make one of my staple recipes.

In my house, Brad and I refer to this recipe for pasta with sausage and kale as “The Pasta”. We eat it whenever we need a quick and easy weeknight meal, we eat it when we want a satisfying weekend meal, we serve it to dinner guests and we love it the next day, eaten room temperature for lunch. Chances are if I’ve ever given you a recipe, I’ve given you this one, and I’d be willing to bet it now makes a regular appearance in your repertoire. It’s so easy, and so delicious, and if I say to Brad, “What should we have for dinner, “The Pasta”?” I know the answer will always be an enthusiastic yes.

It started years ago when I discovered a recipe for orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage. You’ll find this dish on many Italian restaurant menus, but its origins are vegetarian – from the Apulian region of Italy, where the ear shaped orecchiette are handmade with semolina flour. On feasts days they might be served with a meat ragu, but the classic preparation is to serve orecchiette with boiled bitter greens – broccoli rabe, chicory, dandelion greens – that the Pugliesi are so partial to. I’m unsure of when it became tradition (but it seems to be of Italian-American origin) to add Italian sausage, but as a sausage lover I am happy the evolution took place. This is the kind of pasta that combines a few simple ingredients to make magic.

I still love to make the traditional orecchiette dish (I’m partial to Rao’s orecchiette) when broccoli rabe is in season. But the irresistible combination of hearty greens, fatty sausage, and garlic! quickly became something I craved and transformed into a recipe using kale (which is a big part of our regular diet as it’s one of the few greens that continues to thrive through the long, cold Northeast Winters) and whatever short pasta I have on hand.

I like to use campanelle or fusilli, but any short pasta will do. I choose to sauté instead of boiling the greens, and am also partial to the dark Lacinato or Tuscan kale, but you can use curly kale or even swiss chard if that’s your thing. I opt for a sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, and then add plenty of spice with red pepper flakes. I can’t stress enough how much room for improvisation and personal preference exists in this dish – I even make a vegetarian version subbing some caramelized onion and French green lentils for the sausage. The other key ingredient is garlic, lots of it.

Pasta with Sausage and Kale

(Makes 4 servings)

  • 1 pound dried pasta (any short pasta like campanelle, fusilli or orecchiette works great)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 bunch kale (or swiss chard), stems removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • additional 1-2 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
  • fresh grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) for serving

Heat a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat and brown the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks – about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes, stirring until fragrant (about 1 minute more). Add the greens and toss/stir until the color brightens and they are all wilted (about 3-5 minutes depending on what type of greens you’re using). Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with additional olive oil and set aside.

Toss the greens with cooked pasta and 1/2 cup reserved water (add more if the mixture seems too dry). Taste for salt and pepper, garnish with cheese and serve.

For a spicier version, use hot Italian sausage.

When in season, I like to coarsely chop a tomato and add it along with the garlic and hot pepper.

For a vegetarian version, sauté a diced onion instead of sausage. You can also simmer 1/2 of a cup of French green lentils covered in several inches of salted water (add a bay leaf if you’d like) while the pasta water boils (about 20 minutes), drain and stir them into the greens mixture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *