Orecchiette with fennel sausage and broccoli
The Italians eat green vegetables we don’t have. There’s one called Cima di Rapa which is a spring season green broccoli-style sprouting shoot, sometimes called turnip greens, although I don’t think it’s the same thing as the collard greens/turnip greens eaten in the USA. I may be proved wrong, and if you know more about it than me, I’d be keen to be enlightened – please get in touch. The bitter greens that appear in the spring are considered tonic for the winter-bound body – wakening your cells with vitamins and iron, coursing through your blood to enliven you after the winter sleep. I can’t vouch for the health benefits, but the taste tells you it must be good for you.
Anyway, it’s delicious, and it’s eaten with cheesy pasta in Rome in the spring, so what could be better than that? My girlfriends and I ate plates of this at the Enoteca Del Frate and then wandered home, singing songs about rain, so it must have made us happy.
I’ve substituted tender stem broccoli for the Cima di Rapa, and charred it a bit to get that bitter green taste. Inform your taste buds that it’s spring, and you’d better awake and get cleaning. I’ve added some fennel sausage meatballs, just because, but you could leave them out for the vegetarian version. It’s pretty rich, due to the cream and cheese in the sauce, but it’s certainly warming, delicious, and stimulating. Welcome to Springtime in Rome!
Serves 4. Timings: 40 minutes.
Take the sausage meat out of the skins and add fennel seeds if you need to. Form small balls of the sausage meat - about the size of a small walnut - and roll them in the seasoned flour. In a large frying pan, fry the balls in shallow oil for a few minutes each side, turning them to brown and crisp on all surfaces. Place on kitchen paper to drain. Leave the sausage fat in the frying pan for now.
Blanch your tenderstem broccoli by cooking in boiling water for only 2 minutes, drain and cool with cold water. If you have a griddle pan, heat it up. Dump the cooled broccoli into the frying pan and turn in the fennel-flavoured fat to coat the stems. Put a few stems at a time onto your griddle pan and char the broccoli for a few minutes per side, so you get nice charred stripes down the fresh green stem. If you don’t have a griddle pan, you could grill under a hot grill for a few minutes per side until you get some charring and blisters. Put the broccoli aside on kitchen paper.
In a big pan cook the pasta as directed on the packet – boil for about 10 minutes depending on the type. Drain the pasta and keep it warm in the colander but keep the cooking liquid.
In your large flat frying pan, cook the chopped pak choi stems for a minute to wilt them. Turn the heat down and add the vegetable stock powder or paste to the pan, then stir in the cream. Stir gently to mix the stock through the cream, then throw in half the parmesan. Stir quickly, tip in the pasta, sausage balls, broccoli stems and the pak choi leaves. Add spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce as you warm up the mix.
Adjust the seasoning – you probably won’t need salt but you might need a grind or two of pepper, and adjust the consistency of the sauce, adding more pasta cooking water.
Serve in a big bowl, letting all the family serve themselves, with the remaining parmesan to sprinkle over at will.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.