This is a dish I learned from my Italian mamma, Rose (nicknamed Sissina). It is a typical dish of the Italian region of Apulia (Puglia) where she was born in the little village of Loseto. I have fond memories of Mom and her cousins talking and laughing as they rolled the discs of pasta with a knife and their thumbs forming the tiny rippled bowls of orecchiette (little ears) that would hold the sauce.
My recipe uses the dried pasta version which can be found in many supermarkets now. Farfalle, or bow-tie pasta, can be substituted. Of course, if you have the extra hours (and some help), you can make the fresh version. (Here is a video showing how to make fresh orecchiette: https://youtu.be/XcJ2wxpyT_Q)
-12-14 oz. dry orecchiette pasta
-1 pound Italian sausage (I like to use hot Italian sausage, but you can use mild or sweet as well), in bulk or removed from casings
-1 head of rapini (called cime di rapa in Italian), tough ends removed and chopped into one-inch pieces, broccoli rabe or broccolini can be substituted (actually, any bitter green can be used such as mustard greens, chicory or dandelion greens)
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/4 cup milk, optional
-salt and pepper to taste
-red pepper flakes to taste, (if using mild or sweet sausage)
-1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Bring a large pot of water to boil adding several pinches of salt at the boil. The water should taste like sea water. Add the rapini and boil for a few minutes until just starting to get tender, remove from the water. The water will be used later, so don’t toss it.
Meanwhile, heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When it is hot, add the sausage and brown it, chopping it into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired. Remove and reserve the browned sausage.
Bring the water back to a boil and add the orecchiette to the boiling water. Cook until al dente. (10 to 12 minutes.)
Bring the skillet to medium heat, add the rest of the olive oil and garlic. Heat the garlic until almost brown being careful not to burn it. Add the rapini to the pan and mix together, heating through.
Add the sausage into the rapini/garlic mixture and stir to mix, heating it through. Add some pasta water or milk if the mixture is too dry.
Once the pasta is ready drain and put in a bowl, adding the sausage/rapini mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Finally, top with the grated cheese and serve.