How far do you think you can deviate from the original recipe and still be able to recognize it? I mean, there are hardly any real people out there that have all ingredients on hand at all times. We are bound to substitute here and there, even omit some stuff, but can we still call the recipe the same? Shall we do a little experimenting to find out? Strictly for scientific purposes, what do you think?
Ok, enter the recipe that’s been published and over-published by everyone and their mother. I first encountered it on America’s Test Kitchen, tried it the next day and fell in love — it was perfection itself: lots of bitter-sweet greens, no greasy pasta sauce, and carefully combined ingredients. I’ve cooked it many times since then. America’s Test Kitchen is notorious for their attention to detail and emphasis on execution and selecting just the right ingredients, so that when you finally cook their dish, you know instantly, a lot of thought was put into it.
I’ve found since then, that this recipe with slight variations was published many times over through various channels, including, but not limited to Martha Stewart, Williams-Sonoma, Food Network, etc… I get it, it’s popular, so no one really claims the authorship, and at the same time, no one credits anyone else, though the recipe is basically the same everywhere…
As I said before, I love this recipe for two reasons — lots of greens and no sauce. The only problem I have with it — the ingredients listed aren’t readily available. If you are one of those who always has shallots in the fridge, good for you, but even then good luck finding orecchiette in the conventional stores. The only place I was able to find orecchiette in Atlanta was Dekalb Farmer’s Market, and only because they go out of their way to carry every pasta variety imaginable. Finding it in an ordinary grocery store is not easy. Much harder still in a small town. But, and I hope you agree, that’s no good enough reason to pass up the good recipe.
Yes, there is no denying, the shape of the pasta is very important here for toppings distribution, it does enhance the experience, but is by no means a deal breaker. So out with orecchiette and in with whatever pasta I happened to have on hand, which was (my luck) some artisan made pasta acquired by chance at some home-goods store. It was pretty, though not at all like orecchiette (see pictures).
Second problem is shallots. As it happens, on a typical week, I am one of those who always has a few shallots in the fridge, simply because I love them and there is always a slightly higher chance of making something Italian when you have shallots. Of course, I find myself without shallots today. We are out. So out with shallots and in with a combination of sweet onions and garlic. Not the same color, but flavor-wise perfectly acceptable.
Finally, broccoli raab is scarce. Our wholesome grocery store never has it. The nearest health food store is 20 miles away and only has it in spring. Are we going to despair and throw in the kitchen towel? No! We have broccolini — the pretty broccoli’s cousin, tender and sweet, with plenty of greenery and some leaves attached. It won’t have the bitterness of the raab, but it will give us that robust broccoli flavor and some coarse-ish stems that we need here, which is almost perfect.
As for the cheese, any hard and well aged cheese will do in moderation. I had a tiny bit of Parmesan, but not enough, so in goes some Raw Alpine something cheese, which did just great. Luckily, I still had the Italian sausage, so you don’t have to worry about that.
So… broccolini for broccoli raab, any pasta for orecchiette, onions and garlic for shallots, random hard cheese for parmesan. What did we get? Lots of tasty stuff, I tell you! I mean, Martha Stewart probably would cringe and call me a hack, but who cares? We loved our pasta.
Substitution Magic Pasta With Sausage & Broccolini
- 1 lbs pasta (not elaborating on purpose, whatever you have)
- olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and chunked.
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 6 mild Italian sausages (about 1.5 lbs total), removed from casings and chunked by hand
- 1/2 cup white wine or stock
- 1 lbs broccolini (in place of broccoli raab), rinsed and chopped into 1″ pieces
- salt, pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated hard aged cheese, such as Parmesan, Pecorino, etc…
- fresh parsley if you choose to be fancy, finely chopped
- Cook pasta in salted and oiled water according to instructions. Drain and set aside. Prepare the rest while pasta is cooking.
- Pulse coarsely chopped onions and garlic in a processor until resemble salsa, but not minced into a pulp.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.
- Transfer onions and garlic into the skillet an proceed cooking them on medium until fragrant and translucent, but not browned.
- Pull the sausage out of casings by hand, forming small chunks. The farce should come out of the casings quite effortlessly. Discard the casings.
- Add sausage and red pepper flakes to the onions in the skillet and continue cooking until sausage is no longer pink and is lightly browned. Stir once in a while to ensure even onion and garlic distribution. I also added a bit of fresh parsley to cook with sausage, because… well because I add fresh herbs to everything.
- Add stock or wine at this point, scraping the bottom of the skillet with the spatula to loosen the browned bits. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until stock is reduced in half.
- Add broccolini chopped into 1″ pieces. Cover the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes until broccolini is brilliant dark green and softened.
- Add the contents of the skillet to the pasta in a large bowl or pot. Mix well, add cheese and stir a few times to distribute. If you feel the pasta is too dry, add a bit of olive oil. Add chopped parsley.
- Serve immediately.