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Orecchiette and Broccoli Rabe With or Without Sausage
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), or 2 medium bunches , trimmed of tough ends
1 pound orecchiette (little ears) pasta
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, optional
About ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 large shallot or small onion, peeled and chopped
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced or grated
1 preserved lemon, rind and a bit of flesh trimmed and thinly sliced, discard core and pits
About 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 scant teaspoon fennel seed and/or fennel pollen
1 tablespoon Calabrian chili paste, or 1 fresh red finger or Fresno chili pepper, very thinly sliced or chopped
½ cup each grated pecorino cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or 1 cup pecorino only
About ¼ cup pickled Italian hot cherry peppers or sweet cherry peppers in brine, chopped (optional)
Serves: 4 to 6
Bring 3 to 4 inches of water to a boil in a deep, wide skillet or pot. When water boils, add salt. Drop in trimmed broccoli rabe and parboil about 3 minutes, then transfer to iced bath of cold water to shock and stop the cooking process, drain and dry. Chop into bite-sized pieces. This may be done well ahead of pasta preparation.
Heat a large pot of water to a boil for pasta with a minimum of 4 quarts of water. When water comes to a full boil, add a liberal amount of salt to season the water and the pasta itself. It should taste like the sea. Add pasta and undercook it 1 to 2 minutes according to package directions to allow for carryover cooking. The pasta will continue to cook once added to the broccoli rabe. When you are ready to drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup or half a mug of pasta cooking water.
If you're using sausage in your preparation, heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat as well with a drizzle of oil. Add meat and brown and crumble while you cook the broccoli rabe.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat with EVOO, 4 turns of the pan. Add broccoli rabe and heat through 2 minutes, then add shallot or onion, garlic, preserved lemon, thyme, and fennel seed or pollen, stir a minute more then add Calabrian paste or fresh chili, toss. Add starchy cooking water, drained pasta, cheese, and pickled chilies, if using. Add sausage, if using, draining off excess fat if you choose to. Toss the pasta 1 to 2 minutes more, serve in shallow bowls.