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Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale



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This Sausage and Kale Orecchiette is a great weeknight meal. Great for kids, too!

Photography Credit:Nick Evans

By my rough calculations, my kids are 1/8 Italian. My grandmother on my mom’s side was off-the-boat Italian, and it has been diluted ever since. That means that my kids are guaranteed to eat at least 1/8 of any pasta dish I put in front of them, even if it has kale in it!

This Sausage and Kale Orecchiette is a great beginner pasta dish. It has just a few ingredients, with the pasta water itself playing a star role. (Yes!) It also comes together quickly and will make you feel like a cooking rockstar even on a tired Wednesday.

SUGGESTIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS FOR THIS SKILLET PASTA

  • Orecchiette: I like this pasta shape for this dish. The “little ears” cook quickly and do a good job of holding onto the light sauce, but feel free to substitute farfalle, penne, or even orzo!
  • Sausage: I recommend using an Italian sausage, either sweet or hot, for this recipe. (I prefer sweet if I’m feeding it to my kids and hot if I’m not.) You can use bulk sausage or sausage in the casing. If you buy the sausage in the casing, remove it before cooking the sausage.
  • Greens: I really love kale in this dish (I like Tuscan), but Swiss chard would be a perfectly delicious substitute or even baby spinach in a pinch. If you can find a big bunch of kale, though, use it.

Use the pasta water – it’s key!

The key to making this dish work is to season the pasta water well with salt and then use some of that water at the end when you are tossing all the ingredients together. (I like to use about a tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water.)

Pasta water is basically starchy water, so when you add it to a hot skillet with other ingredients, it’ll cling to those ingredients and form a light sauce over everything. If you leave this step out, you will notice it in the final dish. Dry pasta is the worst.

STORING AND REHEATING LEFTOVER PASTA

This pasta dish keeps really well for 5-6 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat it either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Either way, add a splash of water to it to bring it back to life while it reheats.

THE DAD ADD: Crispy Parmesan Breadcrumbs!

This is one of my go-to pasta toppers. Mix breadcrumbs and parmesan together in a small bowl, then add them to a skillet with some butter to form little crispy bits. So delicious!

REPORT CARD

The key to this dish, especially if you have younger, finicky eaters, is to give them small portions of the pasta and, most annoyingly, separate the ingredients.

Yes, I painstakingly separated the pasta, sausage, and kale in this dish and piled each on a plate for my kids. But you know what? THEY ATE IT. They even tried the kale. Sometimes a little extra work goes a long way!

MORE QUICK AND EASY WEEKNIGHT PASTA DISHES:

  • Caprese Pasta Salad
  • Pasta with Tuna and Capers in White Wine Sauce
  • Pasta with Spinach, Artichokes, and Ricotta
  • Spaghetti Pasta Carbonara
  • Pepperoni Pizza Penne Pasta

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale Recipe

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces orecchiette pasta
  • 14-16 ounces bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 large bunch purple or Tuscan kale, de-stemmed and leaves chopped
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup salted pasta water
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • Salt, to taste

For the Crispy Parmesan Breadcrumbs

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Method

1 Make the crispy parmesan breadcrumbs: Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, toss together breadcrumbs, parmesan, and red pepper flakes to avoid any huge parmesan clumps. Pour into skillet and stir to coat with butter. Cook for 3-4 minutes, tossing occasionally, until browned. Set aside until ready to eat.

2 Cook the pasta in salted water: Fill a large pot with water and set it over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt) per quart of water. The water should taste seasoned, but not seawater-salty. It’s important to get the salt level right in the water because we will be using it to finish the dish.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir it rapidly to separate the pasta, since orecchiette has a tendency to stick together. Cook until al dente, probably 9-11 minutes. Scoop out a cup of the pasta water (don't forget!), then drain and rinse the pasta to stop the cooking.

3 Cook the sausage: While the pasta cooks, add the Italian sausage in small chunks to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, letting the sausage render out fat, for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through.

At this point, there should be enough fat from the sausage in the skillet, but if your skillet is very dry, add a drizzle of olive oil before the next ingredients go in.

4 Add kale, shallot, and garlic: Add the chopped kale, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes until kale is wilted.

5 Add cooked orecchiette and pasta water: Add the cooked orecchiette, 1/2 cup pasta water, and lemon juice to the skillet. Toss to combine and heat until the pasta water thickens to form a light sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add more pasta water.

Serve pasta in shallow bowls garnished with crispy breadcrumb topper.

Store leftovers in the fridge for 5-6 days. Reheat in the microwave with a splash of water or over the stove in a skillet on medium-high heat.

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Sausage Kale Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce

A sumptuous, speedy creamy kale and sausage pasta recipe for all of your weeknight needs.


Orecchiette with Kale, Fennel, and Sausage

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until it’s browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a plate.

Add the garlic to the same skillet and sauté for 2 minutes, until light golden. Add the shallot and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the red pepper fakes, if using, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fennel and salt and sauté until the fennel has softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock and cook a few minutes more.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the kale to the boiling water and blanch it for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kale and add it to the skillet, along with the sausage. Return the water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to the package directions until al dente.

Drain the pasta into a colander, making sure to reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet and cook it with the sausage and kale over low heat for 1 to 2minutes. If the pasta is dry, moisten it with the reserved pasta water, adding ¼ cup at a time. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Finish the pasta with grated cheese and freshly cracked pepper. Serve immediately


How to make orecchiette with Sausage & Broccoli

Begin by cooking the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the sausage.

Cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until the sausage starts to brown, 5-6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, broccoli, chicken broth, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the butter until melted and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce.

Add the sausage and broccoli mixture to the drained pasta and toss well, along with half of the grated cheese.

Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl or individual bowls and top with the remaining grated cheese.


Recipe Summary

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 8 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided, or as needed
  • 1 ¼ cups orecchiette pasta, or more to taste
  • ½ cup roughly chopped arugula, or to taste
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir onion with a pinch of salt in hot oil until onion is soft and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir sausage into onions cook and stir until sausage is broken up and browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour 1 1/2 cups chicken broth into sausage mixture and bring to a boil while scraping the browned bits of food off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add orecchiette pasta cook and stir pasta in hot broth, adding remaining broth when liquid is absorbed, until pasta is cooked through and most of the broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Stir arugula into pasta-sausage mixture until arugula wilts. Ladle pasta into bowls and dust with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.


Recipe Summary

  • 8 ounces uncooked orecchiette pasta
  • 5 cups bagged prewashed kale
  • 2 slices center-cut bacon
  • ¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • .38 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cook pasta in boiling water 8 minutes or until almost tender. Add kale, and cook 2 minutes. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

While pasta cooks, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon crumble and set aside. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add sun-dried tomatoes, crushed red pepper, and garlic to drippings in pan cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add pasta mixture, reserved 1/2 cup cooking liquid, black pepper, and salt to pan toss to combine. Top pasta mixture evenly with bacon and cheese drizzle evenly with lemon juice.


Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale Recipe

1 Make the crispy parmesan breadcrumbs: Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, toss together breadcrumbs, parmesan, and red pepper flakes to avoid any huge parmesan clumps. Pour into skillet and stir to coat with butter. Cook for 3-4 minutes, tossing occasionally, until browned. Set aside until ready to eat.

2 Cook the pasta in salted water: Fill a large pot with water and set it over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt) per quart of water. The water should taste seasoned, but not seawater-salty. It’s important to get the salt level right in the water because we will be using it to finish the dish.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir it rapidly to separate the pasta, since orecchiette has a tendency to stick together. Cook until al dente, probably 9-11 minutes. Scoop out a cup of the pasta water (don’t forget!), then drain and rinse the pasta to stop the cooking.

3 Cook the sausage: While the pasta cooks, add the Italian sausage in small chunks to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, letting the sausage render out fat, for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through.

At this point, there should be enough fat from the sausage in the skillet, but if your skillet is very dry, add a drizzle of olive oil before the next ingredients go in.

4 Add kale, shallot, and garlic: Add the chopped kale, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes until kale is wilted.

5 Add cooked orecchiette and pasta water: Add the cooked orecchiette, 1/2 cup pasta water, and lemon juice to the skillet. Toss to combine and heat until the pasta water thickens to form a light sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add more pasta water.

Serve pasta in shallow bowls garnished with crispy breadcrumb topper.

Store leftovers in the fridge for 5-6 days. Reheat in the microwave with a splash of water or over the stove in a skillet on medium-high heat.


Orecchiette with Kale and Sausage

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it
browns, about 8 minutes, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon. Remove the sausage and
drippings and set aside in a bowl.

While the sausage cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt. Add
pasta when water returns to rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and add the garlic.
Sauté until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the kale to the pan, tossing it to wilt. Use a small
amount of pasta water (white wine works too) to help cook the kale down. Add the preserved lemon
and red pepper flakes (if using) stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the sausage and drippings back to the skillet and toss with kale. Add al dente pasta directly to the
sauce using a slotted spoon, along with 1/2 cup of pasta water. Continue cooking until pasta water is
cooked down, stirring continuously to assure the pasta is well coated. Taste and adjust seasoning.


Notes about this recipe

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How to make Orecchiette Sausage Pasta

Nothing unique about the making part! The sausage pasta sauce comes together in the same time the orecchiette pasta takes to cook (12 minutes), making this a great quick dinner recipe.

KEY TIP: Avoid the cheap sausages that are a uniform pink colour – they are loaded with fillers. Look for sausages with specks of meat and white fat, as pictured above.


Orecchiette with Sausage, Kale, and Pine Nuts

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.

To make the most of the few ingredients, here are four simple tips for making any pasta dish perfect:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Reserve a bit of pasta water to loosen up the sauce. I take a cup full out before draining.
4. Use a high quality cheese, not pre grated ersatz “Parmesan”.