I am obsessed lately with making sausage from scratch. Some of you may have noticed… I’ve never made it before in my life until a few weeks ago, and I never thought I would. And yet, here we are. I’ve prepared it three times in the past week and a half. Go figure.
This time, though, I’ve mixed things up with a new twist: homemade sausage meatballs! This version IS a little more involved than removing store-bought sausage from its casing and rolling it into cherry tomato-sized balls. For the bother, your reward is deciding the flavor you want your sausage to have.
For this particular incantation of sausage meatballs, I decided to keep things simple. Since I added ground hickory-smoked bacon to the mix, which tends to be a spotlight-grabber, I didn’t want to add too many contrasting flavors. I also thought the smoky savoriness of the bacon would be a worthy suitor to two beautiful bunches of broccolini that I brought home from the market.
Speaking of broccolini, I did have a cute conversation with my 11-year old Alexia about my vegetable of choice for the evening’s dinner.
“Broccoli! Mamma, are you making that broccoli pasta dish tonight?” She always likes to know what’s culinarily in store for her.
Not exactly, bella. I’m making broccolini.
“Broccolini? What’s that? Is that like baby broccoli?”
No, broccolini is actually a cross between broccoli and a Chinese broccoli called Kai-lan. I know this because I realized that I didn’t know this and so I looked it up.
“Will I like it?” She now looks down at the broccolini suspiciously…
Of course you will. It’s actually a little more tender and sweeter than broccoli. I don’t see why you wouldn’t, since you love regular broccoli.
“I don’t know…it looks like that stuff nonno (my dad) eats sometimes, that bitter stuff.”
Ah…that’s broccoli rabe. Yes, that’s bitter, but that also has all those leaves remember? It’s related to the turnip.
“Turnips?” Alexia’s eyes widen. “You mean those things that even Jake (our dog) won’t eat???”
The very same ones. But that’s not what we have here, remember? Here we have sweetness, with light tones of asparagus even, which – by the way – you also love.
“So they are definitely not those nasty things nonno eats?”
Look at it this way, broccolini just has the florets, broccoli rabe has the leaves too. That’s how you can tell. Do you see leaves here?
“Okay, mamma,” Alexia says curling her lower lip slightly to the side. Clearly NOT completely convinced, my little muffin. That’ll last until her first bite, I thought to myself.
And so it was. I am now expected to make this dish again for my clan as soon as next week. Or so I’ve been told.
making orecchiette with broccolini & sausage meatballs
Start by preparing homemade sausage meatballs or, alternatively, make them by squeezing the stuffing out of 1 ½ lbs. of purchased sausages. Roll the purchased sausage mixture into cherry tomato-sized balls and fry them in just enough olive oil to cover a 10-inch skillet. Cook them until they are golden brown and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
Also, trim, wash and cook 1 lb. (500 grams or 2 small bunches) of broccolini to prepare them.
Then set them aside to drain in a colander.
I recommend using a pasta pot with strainer to do this if you have one.
That way you can just plunk the broccolini in the strainer to cook them. Just make sure that you start removing the strainer from the pot of boiling water VERY, VERY slowly to prevent hot, boiling water from pouring out (from the holes of the strainer) onto the stove and potentially on you. If you don’t have a pasta pot like that, no big deal. Use a large strainer and cook the broccolini for two minutes. Plan on reusing the broccolini water to cook the orechiette (or pasta of your choice). The water has now been flavored with the broccolini and the Kosher salt and will pass on part of that ‘seasoning’ to the cooking pasta.
Bring the large pot of salted broccolini water back to a boil to cook the orecchiette.
Add ¾ lb. (300 grams or 11 oz.) of orecchiette (or pasta of your choice) and cook following package directions. When the pasta is almost done cooking, take out 1/2 cup of the pasta waterand reserve it.
You will add it back into the main dish very shortly.
Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet pan. Add 4 garlic cloves, skin and little internal green sprout removed and pressed, and an optional pinch of red pepper flakes.
Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes. You’ll start to smell a most wonderful garlicky aroma.
At that point, add the well-drained broccolini and allow to cook with the garlic for a couple of minutes to absorb that wonderful garlicky flavor.
Add the cooked meatballs and stir until heated through on medium heat.
When the boiling pasta is cooked yet still firm, drain it in a colander and return to the pasta pot.
Add the reserved ½ cup of broccolini water and the whole content of the broccolini and meatball skillet, including the oil. Add a little douse of additional extra virgin olive oil and mix well but gently, as to not mash up the broccolini. Serve in bowls with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Makes 4 servings.