As a ski instructor, a busy winter vacation week doesn’t leave much time or energy for elaborate dinners. So this past week, dinners were quick and easy. Luckily, Italy serves up many deliciously simple pasta recipes which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.
During our cycling and skiing tours in Italy, we rarely see pasta dishes that are heavily tomato sauce based; instead, we see many flavor combinations that we wouldn’t think of here in the US – pasta with beans, pasta with potatoes, pasta with all sorts of meat sauces from pork and beef to sardines, rabbit and duck. Even fruits and sweet flavors can play a role, like the apples in the Christmas lasagna from Friuli. So the sky is the limit as to the dishes you can create.
For the following recipe, I used what I had on hand; great garlic lamb sausages from French Hill Farm here in Maine, baby kale, pine nuts, and wonderful authentic parmegiano reggiano cheese. I used orecchiette pasta; orecchiette, or ‘little ears’, originally comes from Puglia, but are now found all over Italy. The classic Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, recommends vegetable sauces to accompany orecchiette, so a perfect combination with kale. But I think any good quality pasta will do.
- Be liberal in salting the pasta water. Add salt until the water tastes like the sea, as I was coached in culinary school. It won’t all absorb in the pasta, just enough to flavor it well.
- Cook just until al dente, and use a good quality dried pasta. We want a nice, somewhat firm texture. Too much cooking, or a low quality dried pasta (or even worse, both) will end up with mushy pasta.
- Reserve a bit of pasta water to loosen up the sauce. I take a cup full out before draining.
- Use a high quality cheese, not pre grated ersatz “Parmesan”.
Orecchiette con Salsiccia, Cavoli Rapa e Pinoli
8 ounces sausage
5 ounces kale
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound dried orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano cheese
In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium low heat until just done. Remove from heat and cut into small pieces.
In the same sauté pan, increase the heat to medium and add the kale. Cook until tender, then add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 more minute. Add the cooked sausage and stir to combine. Season with the red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Turn off heat.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt until the pasta water is salty like sea water. Cook the pasta until just al dente – you want the pasta to have some firmness, not mushy. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, then drain.
Add the cooked orecchiette to the sautéed kale and sausage. Stir to combine, adding a bit of the reserved pasta water if you prefer it a bit looser in texture. Stir in the pine nuts and grated cheese, and season to taste with ground pepper. Serve immediately.