Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta is a beautifully balanced dish despite its fiesty flavor components. Starchy pasta mellows a medley of savory pork sausage, pleasantly bitter broccoli rabe (rapini), spicy red pepper flakes, and nutty parmesan cheese.
I say “pleasantly bitter” because broccoli rabe has a reputation for being bitter. It’s true. Fortunately boiling it in water for just one minute is an effective remedy.
Tips for Best Results
You’ll already be boiling water for pasta and it’s easy and economical to use the same water for blanching the broccoli rabe. It’s important to the overall flavor of the dish and partially cooks the broccoli rabe as a bonus (and seasons it too if you salt your water).
Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta is a classic Italian pasta dish that’s often made with orecchiette pasta (meaning “little ears” in Italian). But I’ve found that any short pasta stands in nicely. And most are less likely to stick together, as orecchiette likes to do.
Make sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water to create a silky texture in your finished dish and for storing any leftovers. A splash of cooking water in the bottom of your container makes it easy to reheat this dish without the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan. (I like to add a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper as well.)
What You Need to Make Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta
- Broccoli Rabe (rapini): Look for fresh looking bunches with perky greens and buds. Avoid those that are discolored or wilted.
- Sausage: This recipe calls for Italian sausage. Sweet Italian sausage is what I typically use, controlling the heat with the red pepper flakes. Use hot Italian sausage if you want extra kick. I used pork sausage, but for a lighter version, feel free to use turkey sausage instead.
- Fresh Garlic: Look for smooth, dry skins and plump bulbs. Avoid those that have shriveled cloves or are starting to sprout.
- Red Pepper Flakes: Or crushed red pepper (same thing).
- Olive Oil: Use a good, flavorful olive oil. Because you’re cooking with it, it doesn’t necessarily need to be extra virgin olive oil (though it’s typically all I have on hand).
- Pasta: Most short pasta shapes work well here. I used strozzapreti, but rotini, fusilli, and penne are also good choices.
- Parmesan Cheese: Ideally Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano. You could also use pecorino cheese if you prefer.
You can find broccoli rabe, also called ‘rapini,’ in most major grocery stores and often at farmers markets.
If you can’t find broccoli rabe, substitute another bitter green like mustard greens, turnip greens, or curly kale. If you dislike the bitterness of broccoli rabe, broccolini is a good substitute.
More must try Italian pasta recipes
- Pasta Aglio e Olio (Fast and fabulous – perfect for date night!)
- Bucatini all’Amatriciana (Everyone loves this dish! Make your own pancetta too.)
- Bolognese Sauce (We learned this recipe in a cooking class in Bologna, Italy – it’s stellar.)
- Ragu Sauce (Another cooking class gem, this one from Tuscany. You won’t believe how simple it is to make.)
- Pasta alla Norma (A hearty, tasty pasta made with custardy roasted eggplant and silky tomato sauce.)
How to Make Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta
Step 1: Coarsely chop and blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute. Transfer rapini to colander and return water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions; drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking water.
Step 2: Meanwhile brown sausage in oil, breaking up with a spoon. Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute more. Add broccoli rabe and pasta; toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve topped with parmesan cheese.
Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta
- 1 pound broccoli rabe (rapini)
- 12 ounces short pasta like strozzapreti, rotini, fusilli, or rigatoni
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage sweet or spicy
- 4 large garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 ounce grated parmesan cheese
- Wash rapini (see recipe note); drain and coarsely chop.
- Heat a large pot of salted water to boil. Add rapini and cook 1 minute (working in batches if necessary); transfer rapini to colander to drain. Return water to boil.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente (tender, but firm to the bite). Drain pasta reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and brown, breaking up with a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until garlic is fragrant and golden, about 1 minute more. Add broccoli rabe and toss to coat. Add pasta and stir to combine, adding reserved cooking liquid a few tablespoons at a time as needed to moisten. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among 4 pasta bowls; sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.
- To wash rapini, submerge in a large bowl of water. Swoosh it around to dislodge all dirt and debris. Lift out rapini and transfer to a colander to drain.