Sometimes memories of a dish will stew in my mind for years. The setting, the taste, the dining companions all play a role in defining this dish in my head.
In this case, the inspiration was from a very straightforward Cavatelli w/ Sausage & Broccoli Rabe dish at Rubirosa in NYC. More importantly, this dish was shared on multiple occasions with friends (like my best friend Evan) and family (like my then-girlfriend-now-wife Cristina and my parents).
I had somewhat successfully recreated that exact dish from Rubirosa at home, but it just didn’t feel the same…the dish itself was a copy, and the setting was different. I knew I needed to iterate to make it my own and then share that inspiration back with friends and family in a different, but equally personal setting.
This is my attempt at that…..
- 12 oz dried Orecchiette (imported artisanal stuff is the best, but De Cecco brand is a good one that you can find in most stores, the Whole Foods brand isn’t bad either)
- 2 whole sweet Italian sausages (ideally from a high quality butcher counter)
- 1/2 of a full radicchio head, sliced as thinly as possible
- Plenty of olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cheap dry white wine like Pinot Grigio
- 1 tsp chile flakes (more to taste)
- 3-4 TBSP grated parmesan cheese
- 3-4 TBSP finely chopped Italian parsley
- Toasted breadcrumbs to finish
- For the toasted breadcrumbs, heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add about a cup of panko bread crumbs and 1 tsp garlic powder. Mix to coat everything and toast for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan and stirring frequently with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to cool then to a small container. These will keep at room temperature for a week or two.
- For the main event, add a generous helping of salt to a pot of water. You’re looking for a briny taste, like the Adriatic Sea. Bring to a boil and add orecchiette and cook according to package instructions minus 1 minute for something just shy of al dente (probably 9-12 minutes total). Use a small spoon to taste along the way….that’s really the only way to evaluate doneness of pasta.
- Around the same time you drop the pasta in the water, heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until slightly shimmering. De-case sausages and add to skillet, browning and breaking up with a wooden spoon for about 4 minutes. You’re shooting for small 1/4″ inch chunks on average…some slightly larger, some smaller and more browned.
- Add garlic and chile flakes and continue to saute for about 2 minutes. When the garlic is reaching a golden brown, pour in the white wine in a couple stages and let simmer until the pasta has finished cooking, about 3 more minutes (plenty of time to pound some of that Pinot Grigio).
- Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and immediately add pasta and 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water to the saute pan (I like to do this by using a spider to directly transfer pasta to the pan, then using a measuring cup to scoop out some pasta water, but a colander with a small bowl beneath it also works).
- Stir and toss to combine, then add the radicchio and continue simmering for 1-2 minutes. Add more pasta water if the sauce becomes overly-reduced.
- Transfer everything to a large mixing bowl, add parmesan and parsley and mix thoroughly. Let rest for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to warm bowls, top with more parmesan, the toasted breadcrumbs, and serve (optional garnish…more parsley, a bit more freshly sliced radicchio, and a couple crack of black pepper, as pictured above).