This orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe is one I cook when I can’t bring myself to make another carbonara or puttanesca, Lara’s most requested pastas. Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli is a classic Italian combination from Puglia, but broccoli rabe or rapini, and broccolini also work, and crispy pancetta adds salt and crunch.
Our recipe for orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe will make you one of our best pasta recipes and one of half a dozen pasta dishes we have on repeat. It’s a traditional Southern Italian flavour combination from Puglia, and one of our best souvenirs from our travels in Southern Italy.
I had been making orecchiette with sausage and radicchio for many years to relieve myself of the boredom of making Lara’s favourites, carbonara and puttanesca. I know I should take her weekly requests as a compliment (“they’re that good!” she tells me), but you know how it is.
While I like the combination of the bitterness of the radicchio against the sweetness of the sausage and the salty hit of Parmigiano Reggiano, sometimes the radicchio can be a little bit too bitter.
When rapini or broccoli rabe, as our American readers call it, started turning up in Siem Reap markets (generally labelled as Chinese broccoli, although that’s different yet again), I thought this leafy green vegetable with florets would be a perfect substitute for radicchio, with its slightly less bitter notes.
We first sampled orecchiette with sausage and broccoli, as well as with rapini, in restaurants around Alberobello in Puglia, which is also where we learnt to make orecchiette. Using rapini, sometimes as the centrepiece of a dish, is very popular in the south of Italy.
Orecchiette with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Pancetta Recipe
Firstly, as keen pasta lovers will notice in the image above, the pasta I’ve used in the photograph for this dish is not orecchiette, but tofette, a smaller version of orecchiette, but still big enough to hold a small piece of sausage, which is what you want. Although I almost always use orecchiette – homemade or shop-bought, if I can find it!
Secondly, while I’ve opted for rapini or broccoli rabe, as our American readers call it, in this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe, you can certainly substitute the broccoli rabe with broccoli or broccolini (baby broccoli) if you’re not a fan of the bitterness of rapini, although I think this provides a great contrast to the sausage and pancetta.
If you’re not clear on the differences between broccoli, broccoli rabe (rapini), broccolini, and Chinese broccoli, see this post on The Kitchn website.
I like to use a locally-made Italian-style pork sausage (made by a French butcher) that is a little savoury, sweet and herbaceous but when I can’t get it, I’ll use a slightly spicy sausage that he also makes. I always pull the skins off and roughly chop it into small chunks that will slip nicely slide into a piece orecchiette to make a mouthful.
Tips to Making this Orecchiette with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Pancetta Recipe
My addition to the classic Southern Italian combination of orecchiette with sausage and broccoli is crispy pancetta. The pancetta, once fried and drained, leaves a lovely pool of oil in the pan, which is just perfect for cooking the pea-sized sausage pieces and whatever green or red vegetables you’re combining it with.
As with many southern Italian dishes, this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe is not complete without a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. In the regions of Southern Italy such as Puglia, as well as Calabria and Sicily, they like a bit of spice.
I think the crispy pancetta pieces add some salt as well as crunch to this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe but if you don’t think they add enough texture, you can also add some rough home-made breadcrumbs which we add to a lot of our pasta recipes. You can easily make these from leftover sourdough bread or any almost-stale bread you have.
Note that some rapini will have thicker stems than others, so if it’s too thick to cook by just adding pasta water as to finish the dish, then I won’t use the stems at all. I don’t throw them away either. Simmer them in a little chicken stock and whiz it up in a blender, and you have a wonderful and very nutritious soup.
I hope you enjoy this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe with pancetta!
Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Recipe
- 250 g orecchiette
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 200 g Italian herb sausages - removed from casings
- 2 strips of pancetta
- 1 garlic clove - minced
- 200 g broccoli florets - or rapini or broccoli rabe
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes - more or less to taste
- ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano
- Put the sausage meat in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up (this helps cutting the sausage to size).
- Start heating your pasta water.
- Add pancetta to a cold pan and turn the heat up and cook until crispy.
- In the meantime, separate your rapini leaves and florets. I like to set aside a few little florets as a garnish.
- Take the sausage out of the freezer and chop into pea-sized pieces.
- Remove the crispy pancetta from the pan and add the sausage and cook until slightly browned. Sprinkle some chilli flakes (to taste) over the sausage.
- Start to cook your pasta and chop up your crispy pancetta into little pieces. Add half to the sausage pan.
- Add your rapini to the pan and when the pasta is ready add it to the pan and add a little more pasta water.
- Under no circumstances add some butter to the pan. This dish does not come from the border with Switzerland.
- Mix, plate up and add a good drizzle of olive oil, the pancetta flakes and some breadcrumbs. Grate your cheese over each plate.
Please do let us know if you make this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe with pancetta. We’d love to hear how it turns out.