For a time, my husband Tom and I literally ran in a pack. This was when we were living in Newburyport, Mass., a wonderful coastal community based at the mouth of the Merrimack where it spilled into the Atlantic Ocean. We had a two bedroom condo in an old Italianate style double house built for baggage master William Dame in 1885. Situated a mere block from the bustle of downtown, it boasted two off-street parking spots and was perfect walking distance from the river, restaurants and first-rate retail shops.
A courtesy image featuring the odd side of Otis Place (ah, the magic of the "interwebs"). We lived in the yellow house, bottom unit on the left, but shown here on the right. Walking up the street, the row of candy colored homes always reminded me of San Francisco's Painted Ladies.
But back to the pack. So, the "gang" (Jim & Kat; Sean & Pam; Dennis & Nancy; Greg; Amber; Mindi and a few others) would get together most every Sunday for football (Patriots, naturally...other teams, if a bye week or Monday night game was on the docket). Sometimes out at restaurants, but usually at someone's house.
One weekend in particular – and don't ask me if the Pats won or not – I was gobsmacked because my culinary world changed. All I truly remember of the day is tasting Bianco & Sons Broccoli Rabe, Cheese & Garlic Italian Sausage for the very first time. Founded in Revere in 1960, the Bianco family makes numerous products, but the rabe-based links are the pièce de résistance. Abe Froman might have claimed to be the Sausage King of Chicago, but Joseph Bianco, Sr., was a real-life Sausage Sensei!
On this oh-so-special Sunday, a person who shall remain nameless (their choice, not mine) prepared a baked dish of the sausage with lots of onions and peppers. Oddly for her, an accomplished cook in most every other instance, this particular effort was overdone and quite dried out. But, the flavor of the sausage was there and I couldn't wait to run to the grocery store to buy it and make something spectacular.
Amazing-ness in a styrofoam meat tray. (Courtesy image.)
After a trip to Market Basket and cleaning out the entire shelf (about 5 pounds), I headed home to determine what magic this green-ish link of fabulousness was going to be when it grew into that evening's dinner.
I dove deep into the internet and found a series of ideas that caught my eye, all calling for additional fresh broccoli rabe and orecchiette pasta (neither of which I had on hand). Back to the store.
Happily, broccolini and orecchiette can be found just about anywhere! Look for tight florets on the rabe and ridges on the pasta to better hold the sauce.
I finally settled on a combination of several recipes, but took the majority of my cue from Chef Michael Symon. Major differences in my version include browning a whole bunch of sliced garlic; using much less pasta (but still producing plenty of pasta water for the sauce), as well as much more fresh broccolini (not regular rabe and there is no need to blanch, it cooks fine in the pan); lastly, I bake the sausage off rather than sauté it loose (the big bites are just so much more satisfying).
As I just mentioned and like other recipes (including my Absolutely Fabulous Chicken Pot Pie (link here)), I bake the sausage off in the morning and let it thoroughly cool before slicing, then finish the recipe just before dinner time.
NOTE: I thought that when we left Newburyport in 2021 for sun and fun in Naples, Florida, my favorite go-to dish was soon to be a distant memory. Sure, I tried it with hot sausage, but it just wasn't the same. I'd pretty much given up, until I saw everyone raving on Nextdoor about the authentic Italian food at Neopolitan Gourmet. My sweetie and I headed over and were further amazed to see that Chef Vincent Igneri (a Long Island, NY, transplant still making his family's recipes from both Calabria and Sicily) had a Broccoli Rape sausage. If you are in Southwest Florida, I urge you head over to Airport Pulling Road and grab 3 or 4 pounds...you'll be glad you did. Oh, and call ahead, if not available, he will whip some up and you can pick it up the next morning.
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sausage & Broccolini
1 pound (plus) Broccoli Rabe Sausage
1 1/2 cups orecchiette
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 stick butter
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bunches broccolini, ends trimmed, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
Preheat oven to 375ºF and bake sausage on tin foil lined pan (to save any drippings) for approximately 40 minutes or until instant read thermometer hits an internal temperature of 155-160ºF. Let cool and slice. Place in dish with any pan juices poured over. This can be done in advance.
When ready to begin dinner, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil (this and the parmesan cheese are your only sources of salt in the recipe). Add pasta and cook until al dente ("to the tooth" or having a slight bite to it), about 10 minutes.
At same time, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, butter and sliced garlic to pan. Cook until garlic begins to lightly brown. Add red pepper flakes and stir. Add cut broccolini and cook until bright green and somewhat tender (wait for it...al dente), about 7 minutes. Add sausage and any drippings from dish. Heat through while tossing well with oil, garlic, broccolini and pepper flakes, about 2-3 minutes.
Ladle in cooked pasta. Add 1-2 cups of pasta water. Mix. Add in two good sized handfuls of grated parmesan cheese. Stir well and serve in bowls with shredded parmesan on the side and crusty bread for dipping.