Friday, September 16, 2011

Pasta Shells with Broccoli and Sausage

There are hundreds of recipes for pasta with a variety of cooked vegetables making up a crude sauce. One favorite features small shell pasta, or conchiglie, with broccoli and sausage. Roasted peppers play a big role, as well.

This recipe for pasta with broccoli and sausage is relatively simple, and very quick to make. It shouldn’t take much more than about 30 minutes from start to table. It’s simple ingredients, and quick cooking time, make it a perfect weeknight meal. You can use your own roasted red peppers, or canned.

For more variation, you can substitute sun-dried tomatoes for the red peppers, or broccoli rabe for the broccoli.

Pecorino Romano is the cheese of choice for this dish. You can substitute Parmesan if Romano is unavailable. This sauce works best with shapes that will grab onto the bits of vegetables and sausage. Small shells are readily available at my grocery store, but other small pasta shapes, such as penne or orecchiette, will do nicely.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Rasp grater or microplane
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large sauce pot
Large spoon
Colander or mesh strainer

4 ounces Italian sausage
1 cup roasted red peppers
6 medium garlic cloves
1 bunch broccoli, about 1-1/2 pounds
2 ounces Romano cheese (about 1 cup, grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 pound small shell pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for the skillet
1 tablespoon salt, for the pasta water

Squeeze the meat out of the casings and discard the casings. Rinse the roasted peppers and cut into thin strips. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut the florets off the broccoli head. Slice the larger florets into 1 inch pieces by slicing through the stems. Trim the bottom of the large stalks and peel the outer layer. (Peeling the outer layer removes the bitter parts of the broccoli stalk.) Cut the peeled stalks into 1/4-inch thick pieces Grate the Romano cheese with the rasp grater or microplane. You should have about 1 cup of cheese after grating.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. While it's coming to a boil, you can work on making the sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage in the skillet, breaking it into small pieces, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the roasted red peppers and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 cup water. Cover, and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2-4 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 - 7 minutes more.

When the water in the dutch oven begins to boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta shells. Cover and simmer until the pasta is almost tender, but still a little firm (al dente), about ten minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta shells in a colander and return to the pot. Stir in the broccoli and sausage mixture, grated Romano cheese and 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Add reserved pasta water to "loosen the sauce" if needed. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Makes 6 servings.

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