I will never forget the day I walked into Tony & Mark’s and saw something I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in my Nonno’s garden: a bunch of unappetising-looking weeds that could be mistaken for something that might have been salvaged from the greens bin. I’m not really selling this, I know, but you must understand how overjoyed I was to see I could purchase such wonderment in Australia! Unsurprisingly, I had quite a hard time convincing Matt that this was not only edible but delicious when he saw me chopping up the deep green stalks and leaves and adding them to the pan; however, despite taking his first bite with caution, he was quickly won over, and the seconds and thirds that were to at least cover us for lunch the next day were soon devoured. In fact, this pasta dish should perhaps be titled ‘The Other Pasta Matt Loves To Eat’; it is certainly a dish that is on rotation in our house when we are lucky enough to find the leafy bitter greens at the greengrocer.
Cime di rapa, or rapini or broccoli rabe, is a cruciferous vegetable that looks something like the lovechild of broccolini, rocket and English spinach. It’s tougher stalks give way to deep green large rough leaves with a sprinkling of broccolini-like florets. It is popular in southern Italian and Roman cuisine, often boiled then sautéed with olive oil, garlic and chilli as a side dish or as an accompaniment to sausage in a panino. The bitterness of the wilted greens seems to be the perfect companion to pork, chilli and garlic, and this recipe makes the most of the fire and caramelised butteriness that occurs when these flavours are allowed to infuse together.
You’ll have noticed by now that when I cook, and when I eat, I want full flavour with minimal effort, hence my preference for more rustic dishes. Also, I’m usually too impatient for finicky food when I’d rather be on the couch with a bowl of something comforting than fussing in the kitchen over something complicated. This is one such dish; the accompaniment is ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta. I say ‘accompaniment’ as this is not so much a sauce as it is some spiced sautéed ingredients tossed through some pasta. I specify using Italian pork sausages as opposed to pork mince; the higher fat content of the sausage provides a deeper flavour than pork mince and the texture is squeakier and uneven. Look for pure pork sausages, but if you can only find pork and fennel sausages, you may wish to halve the amount of fennel seeds or omit them altogether.
Rapini can be hard to find, though I have increasingly seen it sold in supermarkets, and tends to be available only seasonally through winter, unless you have access to seeds to grow them yourself or you know a good Italian gardener who will generously give you some. I have grown my own and it is not terribly demanding to harvest your own crop even in containers. Seeds can be purchased online from Franchi Sementi or The Italian Gardener; if you are in Adelaide, I purchased mine from Imma & Mario’s Mercato in Campbelltown. If you crave this pasta and rapini is not easy to acquire, a mixture of silverbeet or English spinach and broccolini make a reasonable substitute.
PAPPARDELLE CON SALSICCE E CIME DI RAPA
Pappardelle with Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
- 500g Egg Pappardelle
- 6 Italian pork sausages (approx 450g), casings removed
- 1 large bunch Cime di Rapa (Broccoli Rabe), roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon kosher sea salt flakes
- Handful of finely grated pecorino + more for sprinkling
- 1 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds and chilli flakes in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant.
Add half the oil, onion and salt and sauté until the onions start to colour.
Add the sausage meat and cook until browned using a fork or wooden spook to break down the clumps.
Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of water and cook until al dente.
Add the nutmeg and the tougher cime di rapa stalks to the sausage and onion mixture first and cook for a few minutes until the stalks start to soften but still retain a little crunch. Then add the chopped leaves and the garlic and cook, stirring, until wilted.
By this time, the pasta should be cooked to al dente. Use tongs to lift the pasta from the pot and add straight to the pan with the sausage and wilted leaves. Add the remaining all and the grated pecorino as well as half the reserved starchy pasta cooking water. Toss to combine well adding more pasta water if needed to evenly coat the pappardelle and create a sauce.
Serve into bowls sprinkling with more cheese and dried chilli to taste.