In Puglia, orecchiette con le cime di rape (orecchiette with broccoli rabe) is one of the staple pastas and I consumed many bowls of it when I was there. It’s essentially pasta with broccoli rabe that is cooked with lots of garlic and chiles. This version adds sausage to ramp up the protein/flavor and a touch of tomato paste to create a glossy tomato sauce. It’s worthy of a special occasion meal but also simple enough for a weeknight dinner. If you can find broccoli rabe, then use it! If not, broccolini is a good substitute or just use regular broccoli. 

It also requires minimal prep and comes together quickly – cook the pasta (save that water), brown the sausage, then cook the tomato paste, then add pasta water + broccolini to quickly cook/steam it, then stir in the sausage, pasta, and cheese until it all comes together!

Ingredient highlight

Broccolini! These tender stalks are essentially baby broccoli. They a milder and slightly sweeter taste than broccoli and their stems are so tender that you don’t have to trim them off. Broccolini contains similar nutrients as broccoli – fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Servings 4
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes


  • 8 oz short pasta (rigatoni, penne, orecchiette)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12-16 oz raw Italian sausage, casings removed*
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed or thinly sliced**
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes**
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small bunches (about 10 oz) broccolini, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)***
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese (blender parm) + more for topping
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • *Buy raw in bulk or remove the casings. Tear the sausage into bite-sized pieces to make it easier to crumble up in the pan.
  • *You could also just use 12-16 oz of any ground meat and add in some extra garlic and 2 tsp fennel seeds.
  • **Since sausage already has these flavors, you could totally leave these out. I like adding some extra garlic and spice.
  • ***Or use regular finely chopped broccoli


  • Fill a medium-large pot with water (about 2-2.5 quarts) and bring to a boil over high heat. Season the water generously with salt (about 1 tbsp). Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Reserve about 1 ½ cups of pasta water, then drain and set aside.
  • In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the sausage, break it into chunks and let it cook, undisturbed, for about 2-3 minutes or until nicely browned. Continue to cook and break it up into smaller crumbles until cooked through with crispy bits, about 2-3 more minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate or bowl.
  • To the skillet, warm a light drizzle of oil over medium heat (depending on how much oil is left in the pan, you just need a little bit). Add the tomato paste, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook until the tomato paste darkens in color/caramelizes, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in ½ cup of the pasta water, then add the broccolini. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the broccolini is crisp tender, stirring often. Add the sausage, pasta, cheese, and another ½ cup pasta water and cook, stirring often, until a glossy sauce forms and coats the noodles, about 2 more minutes. Add more pasta water, if needed to create more of a saucy consistency.
  • Serve topped with more parmesan, black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

Items you can prep ahead (optional)

  • Smash or thinly slice 3 cloves garlic
  • Cut  1 large or 2 small bunches broccolini into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
  • Finely grate ½ cup parmesan
  • You could brown/cook the sausage ahead.


  • To make vegetarian, replace the sausage with 1-2 cans of drained beans. You can brown the beans in oil (and about ½-1 tsp salt) or just add them in with the pasta. To add more sausage-like flavor, add in some extra garlic and 2 tsp fennel seeds. Beans always need more salt, so add in ½-1 teaspoon extra salt or just salt to taste.
  • To make dairy-free, skip the parm and add an extra ½ teaspoon of salt (and more to taste). Top with some toasted almonds or walnuts.
  • To make gluten-free, use a GF pasta.
  • Read the substitution ideas under the ingredient list!


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Leftovers + Repurposing:

  • Warm up  leftovers in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until warmed through, stirring after each 30 second interval to ensure even heating. Be sure to top with a generous squeeze of lemon, more parm, pepper, and some fresh herbs if you have them.
  • To stretch leftovers, I would add a scoop of cottage cheese on top of the pasta for some extra protein. You could also stir in a can of beans to stretch it! Microwave the beans to warm them up, then toss them in some salt and oil before adding to the pasta (always season your beans!!).

This Content is for Cooking Club Members

If you have an account but your membership expired; please get a new one Click here to sign in. 

leave your comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating