Spring is on the way, and there’s nothing I love to cook more than fresh greens. Broccoli rabe is one of my favorites, also known as cime di rapa (meaning “turnip tops”), rapini, broccoli di rapa and broccoletti in Italy. The young leaves of the plant are used in cooking along with the clusters of green buds that resemble small heads of broccoli. The flavor of the vegetable is slightly nutty, bitter and pungent and has tons of vitamin A, potassium, calcium and iron, with its peak season from fall to spring.
I decided to incorporate it into a cheesy baked pasta dish made with fresh sweet Italian sausage and three cheeses (ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and mozzarella), along with some fun mushroom flavored pasta, tossed in truffle oil. I picked up some fresh broccoli rabe at the farmers market and sautéed it with some garlic, red pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil until aromatic, then tossed it into a big casserole dish with the pasta, cheeses and a dash of nutmeg and lemon zest, and baked it into a big pot of golden bubbly brown goodness.
The dish is a perfect light one-pot dish, and is superb served with a glass of crisp Italian white wine, a simple Arugula salad tossed with lemon, S&P, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and crusty Italian bread with olive oil and red pepper flakes for dipping. Andiamo a mangiare!
1 bunch broccoli rabe, stems removed, chopped into large pieces
1 pound of pasta (dried ziti or penne, or chunky pasta of your choice)
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
Extra Virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced or sliced
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 pound ground sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 (15 ounce) container whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 egg, whisked
A dash of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest
Fresh ground black pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9”x13” or 10” round casserole dish and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set up an ice bath in a large bowl to the side. Cook the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 minute and immediately remove and plunge into ice bath to cool for another few minutes. Pat dry and set aside. Add the pasta to the boiling water and let cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse pasta in cool water to stop cooking, while reserving ¼ cup of hot pasta water. Toss with white truffle oil and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan with olive oil and bring the pan to a medium heat. Sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes for about a minute or two, until soft and aromatic. Add the broccoli rabe and toss with olive oil, add salt and heat through. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan, heat more olive oil over medium high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for about 3-5 minutes until soft and light golden brown. Add ground sausage and cook until browned, drain off any excess fat.
Return the cooked pasta and broccoli rabe into the large sauté pan with the sausage and onion mixture.
Toss the ricotta cheese with whisked egg, nutmeg, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Add to the cooked pasta, broccoli rabe and sausage-onion mixture in the large sauté pan, mixing ingredients together well. Stir in ¼ cup of pasta water to make a light sauce.
Place the pasta mixture into the greased casserole dish. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Let stand for 5 minutes, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish.
Serve with a glass of crisp Italian white wine, a simple Arugula salad tossed with lemon, S&P, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and crusty Italian bread with olive oil and red pepper flakes for dipping.