This is a pasta dish that manages to be both hearty and spring-like. Rather than a thick tomato sauce, you use some of the pasta cooking water to make a lighter sauce that combines with the butter and pan juices. Yet the combination of whole wheat pasta, sausage and broccolini packs a lot of flavor.
Do you ever get broccolini and broccoli rabe confused? Broccoli rabe, also called rapini, is a bitter green with small buds that resemble broccoli florets. It's species is known as brassica rapa, which also includes turnips, napa cabbage and mizuna. Broccolini was created in 1993 as a hybrid between broccoli and kailan, a green also known as Chinese kale. Broccoli, kailan and broccolini are all subspecies of brassica oleracea, making broccolini a closer kin to broccoli than broccoli rabe.
To give this dish some heat, I used aleppo pepper, a spicy red pepper from the Mediterranean and Middle East. It's commonly sold as crushed flakes, making it similar to red chili pepper flakes but with less heat. So where you might use a generous pinch of red chili pepper flakes, you might want to use 1/2 tsp. or more of aleppo pepper.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Sausage and Broccolini
1 bunch of broccolini
1 lb. whole wheat pasta, such as farfalle
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (I use mild Italian chicken sausage)
2 medium shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. aleppo pepper flakes
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Shaved grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano (use a vegetable peeler to make wide shavings of cheese), to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Remove the about 1/3 of the broccolini from the stem end and discard. Cut the remaining broccolini in half. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the broccolini in the boiling water for 1 minute, then remove.
2. Add salt to the boiling water. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and set it aside.
3. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned. Remove sausage from pan.
4. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the aleppo pepper and broccolini and cook another 2 minutes. Add the pasta, sausage and reserved pasta cooking water. Stir to combine and cook a minutes or so until the ingredients are heated through. Turn off the heat and add the butter. Stir to combine as the butter melts.
5. Serve pasta in shallow bowls topped with shavings of grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano and freshly ground black pepper.