On the Italian island of Sardinia, we were smitten with a richly flavored pasta with ground pork and wild fennel. It came loaded with a host of spices and herbs, including parsley, black pepper, fennel seed, paprika, red pepper flakes, onion and salt.
Delicious, but with a daunting ingredient list for a weeknight pasta. When it came time to adapt the recipe for our book, “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we saw a fantastic shortcut that saved time and ingredients. Italian sausage always includes at least some of those seasonings, so we just removed the sausage meat from the casing and sauteed it to create a flavor-packed ragu.
Dry vermouth and citrusy lemon zest perfectly balance the richness of the sausage, which pairs well with the pepperiness of baby arugula. Orecchiette, a coin-size, saucer-shaped pasta, is ideal for catching flavorful bits of sausage, scallions and fennel seeds; if you can’t find orecchiette, small shells and cavatelli work well, too.
Don’t forget to reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. You will need it to build the sauce.
Orecchiette with Sausage and Arugula
Servings: 4 to 6
1 pound orecchiette pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casing removed
2 bunches scallions, sliced, white and green parts reserved separately
4 medium garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
¼ cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
5-ounce container baby arugula, roughly chopped
1½ ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (¾ cup), plus more to serve
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, then drain. Return the pasta to the pot.
While the pasta cooks, in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it into small chunks, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel–lined plate, then pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
To the fat in the pan, add the scallion whites, garlic and fennel seeds. Cook over medium, stirring, until the scallions are softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until most of the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Stir in the reserved cooking water, the lemon zest and half of the scallion greens. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the mixture over the pasta, then add the sausage. Cook over medium, stirring, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the arugula and toss to wilt. Off heat, stir in the Parmesan. Serve sprinkled with the remaining scallion greens and drizzled with oil; offer additional Parmesan on the side.