I have to tell you about my new favorite pasta. I’m absolutely in love with orecchiette (oh-rayk-kee-EHT-teh), a dimple of a pasta with a funny name. Orecchiette, which actually means “little ears” in Italian, is typically made by pressing the thumb into a small round of pasta dough against a wooden board. The resulting rough irregular shape does resemble a little ear, though the commercially available versions are more uniformly dome-shaped. A good quality orecchiette will have a textured or ridged outer surface, which beautifully clings onto sauce while the saucer-like concave side is perfect for grabbing onto little nuggets of goodness. With its toothsome bite, this pasta eats surprisingly heartily, which also makes it well suited for pairing with vegetables and lighter ingredients.
My favorite preparation of orecchiette is simply with Italian sausage and rapini (also known as broccoli rabe). The combination came to me while perusing my local market as I was trying to let the freshest ingredients inspire the dish. Here I was thinking I was being creative and resourceful, to later find out that orecchiette with sausage and rapini is quite a classic pairing. So much for originality, but hell, it sure is tasty.
The key to cooking with orecchiette, in my opinion, is to make all the ingredients similarly sized. In this dish, the ground sausage meat, diced onion, and chopped rapini are all easily picked up by the dimples of the pasta, cradling flavor with every fork or spoonful. On the topic of flavor, the semi-one pot nature of this dish helps to build layers upon layers of it. The sausage browns first, then the onions get sauteed in the pork fat. The rapini and garlic gets cooked in the same pot as well, the steam from the leaves helps pull off the fond or brown crusty bits. A generous handful of cheese at the end lends richness and an extra hint of salt, while the lemon-scented breadcrumbs adds a nice textural contrast and a bright citrusy note. If you’re pressed for time, skip the breadcrumbs but do add the lemon zest to the dish.
I do have to admit that I haven’t tried making orecchiette any other way, though many ideas come to mind (with gorgonzola and crumbled bacon, cold with pesto and ripe cherry tomatoes, or a with rich hearty bolognese). I’m just content for now to have it this way, because it’s so good.
If you can’t find rapini, regular broccoli will do just fine. Makes 4 servings.
For breadcrumbs, melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, stir and toast until golden brown, taking care not to burn the crumbs. Remove from heat, stir in lemon zest. Spread out crumbs onto a baking sheet to cool.
Brown sausage in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once sausage has some color, add onion and cook until sausage is no longer pink inside and onion is soft and caramelized. Remove sausage and onion mixture and set aside. In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, then add rapini. Cook rapini until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, add juice of 1/2 a lemon, and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer the rapini to a cutting board and chop finely. Return rapini, sausage, and onion to saucepan. Mix well and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook orecchiette al dente or according to package instructions, approximately 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving cooking liquid. Add pasta and cheese to the saucepan with rapini and sausage, stirring to incorporate all the ingredients. Add remaining 1/2 lemon juice. Add reserved cooking liquid a little at a time, stirring until the pasta is not dry. Serve pasta in bowls and top with breadcrumbs and additional cheese.
In Southern California, we’re blessed with a relatively mild and short winter season. Incredibly, while the rest of the country may still be under a blanket of snow, here it’s already warming up to the low 70s during the day. That doesn’t mean a nice, piping mug of hot chocolate isn’t welcomed in the early morning hours, or late at night (in my case, since I’m not much of a morning person).
Inspiration for this drink came from an amazing hot chocolate I had at a bar after a day of snowboarding at our local mountains. It was so incredibly rich, creamy, and comforting I found myself enjoying it more than the pale ale I had ordered for myself. After returning from my trip, I had to try recreating it at home.
For richness, I used whole chocolate instead of cocoa powder. I’m sure cocoa powder would have been fine, but the combination of bitter dark chocolate and creamy milk chocolate just seemed more indulgent and sinful. The addition of lavender was inspired by the lovely latte and waffles drizzled with chocolate lavender sauce from Café Medina. At this point you’re probably thinking, gross, I don’t want my hot chocolate smelling like soap. Trust me, with just the right amount, it’s wonderfully soothing and relaxing.
Give it a shot, and let me know what you think!
Since lavender is quite fragrant, adjust amount according to preference. For a creamier hot chocolate, a 1 to 1 ratio of dark to milk chocolate can be used. Makes 2 servings.
For whipped cream, place cold cream, vanilla, and sugar into a cold mixing bowl. Beat the mixture with a whisk or mixer until stiff peaks form. keep refrigerated until ready for use.
For hot chocolate, heat milk and lavender over medium heat, whisking occasionally until the milk begins to simmer. Remove from heat and let lavender steep for 5 minutes. Strain lavender and return milk to saucepan. Over medium heat, add chocolate and mix until chocolate is melted and incorporated. Whisk milk mixture for 10-20 seconds until frothy. Pour into mugs or bowls and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.