Friday, May 2, 2014

Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans

For the past month, I have embarked on my weekly visit to the Union Square Greenmarket with crossed fingers in high hopes that spring's signature vegetables will make their season debut. Unfortunately, this hope remains wishful thinking: while flowers and herbs are generously displayed in colorful abundance, the vegetable crop remains winter-blue dismal: root vegetables, onions, apples. Calling all local asparagus and spring peas: where art thou?

So last Saturday—rather than exhale my usual sigh of disappointment and trek two blocks south to Trader Joe's—I made a point to pay special attention to the non-vegetable vendors at the Greenmarket; mainly, the meats. Local meal, I will find thee! As I perused the different tents—ranging from commonplace chicken and turkey to more obscure pheasant and venison—I began to notice a curious theme: the Union Square Greenmarket was teaming with hand-made sausages. Antibiotic, nitrate and hormone-free, the sustainable meat was creatively packaged in fun varieties too. For example, one chicken vendor mixed apples and pistachios along with his ground poultry.

In the end, it was Catskill Merino Lamb whose sausage won me over. Boasting a range of unique varieties such as spicy Moroccan (which I sampled, ah-MAZ-ing), red pepper and fennel, and fennel and garlic. As I ooed and ahhed over my succulent bite of juicy lamb sausage, I noticed some vibrant batches of broccoli rabe at the vendor next door and knew at once my meal had been found. Dinner tonight, aka Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans, was born.

This recipe explains why the use of local, in-season ingredients always makes for a superior meal. Simplicity and freshness at its finest, the pasta boasts only three additions: sausage, broccoli rabe and cannellini beans. Yet when tossed in a light broth saturated with garlic, chicken broth, white wine and fresh rosemary (a farmers market purchase, too!), the dish becomes alive with the sum of its parts. Sure, it's basic and quick, but hits that sweet spot of homey and hearty that everyone craves in a fresh pasta dish.

Using a single pan is not only convenient for clean-up here, it also serves to enrich the flavor of the lamb. By cooking the sausage in the same skillet as the white wine and herb reduction, the lamb's pan drippings fold into the sauce; simmering along with the rest of the liquid. (Yep, spoon it straight out of the pan. It's that kind of dish!)

So even though our classic spring vegetables may not have arrived on the farmers market scene just yet, I am happy to report that a local, robust meal can be easily put together nonetheless. Asparagus and peas, I'll catch you later. Sausage takes center stage for now!

Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup defattened reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp fresh minced rosemary
3/4 pound pasta (preferably orecchiette; whole-wheat penne or fusilli)
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 1.5 pounds), cut into rough 1-inch pieces
1 lb lamb, chicken, or turkey sausage
Parmesan cheese
Hot red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper & salt

1. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil and cook sausage over medium-high heat, turning until all sides are nicely browned, 5-10 minutes. Remove from skillet (don't worry about it being done) and cut into bite-sized pieces. Return to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked-through and golden.
2. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the pan, leaving the pan drippings. Place into a large bowl.
3. Reduce heat to low, and add garlic, cooking for one minute. Stir in the broth, wine, beans, rosemary, and hot pepper flakes (1/4 tsp for gringos, 3/4 tsp for heat-lovers.) Simmer, uncovered, until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until almost al dente, about 9 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until the broccoli rabe is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes more. Drain well.
5. Pour the pasta and broccoli rabe into the large bowl, and toss with the sauce. Add cheese, salt & pepper, and extra hot red pepper flakes to taste. Toss again and serve immediately.

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