Of all the pasta dishes in the world to love, and there are a lot of them, orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage has long been one of my favorites. Orecchiette pasta, which translates to little ears in Italian, are small handmade pasta resembling, well, little ears.
This delightful pasta hails from Puglia, or Apulia in English, a region in Southern Italy. In Puglia, you can walk through the streets and see several grandmas, or nonne, shaping orecchiette by hand. This is one of the best pastas to eat with pesto, in my opinion, because the wider surface area soaks up all that pesto goodness.
In this recipe, the vegetal flavor of the asparagus unites with the spicy sausage and herbaceous, nutty flavors of the pesto for an abundantly delicious dish. While it’s a filling, nourishing dish, the spring asparagus and fresh parsley in the pesto keep it light enough for warm weather. So, when you’re craving pasta this spring or summer, turn to this orecchiette pasta dish.
The Wine Pairing
I developed this recipe to pair with the Di Giovanna Vurría Nerello Mascalese Rosato Sicilia DOC 2021. The spiciness of the sausage, nutty and herbal flavors of the pesto, and grassy flavors of the asparagus bring out the best in an already fantastic wine. Nerello Mascalese has tart red fruit flavors like cherry and pomegranate that pop alongside herbs and spices. While the juicy acidity of this rosato is an enticing contrast to the nutty pesto as well as the heat from the sausage.
When looking for other wines to pair with this dish, aim for fruit forward wines with medium-to-high acidity and subtle aromas of herbs or spices. Try Cinsault, Counoise, Gamay, Agiorgitiko, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, or Schiava. Let me know if you make this orecchiette pasta recipe and what wine you choose to pair with it to elevate your meal.
This orecchiette pasta offers an explosion of spring time flavors with rich, nutty flavors from the walnut pesto and a subtle kick of heat from the sausage.
- 250 grams orecchiette pasta (use 500 grams for 4 people)
- 16 stalks asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces (more or less as desired)
- 2 spicy Italian sausages (1 per person)
- white wine
- 2 small garlic cloves (use 1 if cloves are large)
- 3/4 cup walnut pieces
- 1-1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley (about 1/2 large bunch)
- 1/4 cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- olive oil
- red pepper flakes
Put water on to boil for the pasta. Heavily salt the water once boiling and cook the pasta to package instructions, but strain from water 1-2 minutes before suggested cooking time. Reserve some of the pasta water.
To make the pesto, add all pesto ingredients to a food processor except for the olive oil. Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes can be added to taste. Pulse the ingredients together as you slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is ground into a paste or you reach a preferred consistency.
Steam the asparagus in a pan in 1/2 inch of white wine for 3-4 minutes until tender, but not too soft. Asparagus should still be bright green. Remove asparagus from the pan and dump out any remaining wine.
Cut sausages in half and squeeze the meat out of the sausage casing. Sauté in a pan with 1 tbsp olive oil over low heat and break the meat into small pieces while sautéing.
Once the sausage has browned, add the pesto and asparagus. Toss in the cooked pasta and a splash or two of the reserved pasta water. Stir to coat the pasta in pesto and cook 2-3 minutes in the pan.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.