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It’s been mad around here lately.  Has December been crazy for you too? Please forgive my blatant neglect with regards to your blog posts.  Between preparing foods for a dinner party of 24 people, cooking a light lunch for 100, baking cookies and goodies for bake sales, organizing a book fair and a holiday lunch for teachers and staff at my daughter’s school, planning a cookie exchange party, cooking and baking for gift baskets, and a health issue which sometimes leaves me bedridden, life has been somewhat overwhelming for me lately. And I’ve left out a number of things.  Who else has been suffering from all this craziness? My family.  Not being able to cook up some homemade goodness has left us all grumpy.  Oh, how I wish some of you lived close by!

Well, I did manage a meal here and there, and with a little help from my friend John over at from the Bartolini kitchens, I made Italian sausage for the first time ever.  And not just any sausage. Simple and yummy Bartolini Sausage.  It doesn’t get any easier than John’s recipe as there aren’t any casings involved.  How great is that?

I added strong pancetta rather than mild to the meat mixture, to give it a little zing.  And I also added whole fennel seeds.  I just love the taste of fennel in Italian sausage.  I used this recipe in two ways and in this post I will show you how I used it in my Orecchiette and Rapini dish.

First, rapini.  LOVE!  One of the most popular greens in Italy.  Also known as broccoli rabe in America, if you’ve never tried it, you really should!  Rapini comes to us from the mustard family, with some referring to it as mustard greens.  With spiked leaves and little green buds that resemble broccoli, it is not at all related to broccoli.  It is a close relative of the turnip family and its flavour is characteristically pungent and bitter.  Not only is it yummy, it’s good for you too.  It has amazing health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, keeping bones strong, lowering the risk of heart disease, and improving insulin sensitivity.  A cool weather vegetable at its best in the Fall, Winter and early Spring, when buying rapini look for leaves and buds that are crisp and dark green.  You don’t want any yellowing leaves nor yellow flowers on the buds.

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My dad always prepared rapini simply.  Sautéd with olive oil and garlic. Served with steak or liver sausage, or added to cooked orecchiette pasta. My fave!  So this time, because my caveman is constantly demanding where the meat is if I should present a meatless dish, I served it up with crumbled sausage.  Here’s how you can do it too.

Ingredients

1 package of Orecchiette pasta

1 lb. of sausage, casings removed if you haven’t made your own

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 package of rapini, rinsed under cold water

Salt

Cook the sausage meat in a fry pan until done.  Set aside.  Boil some water and cook the “little ears”.  That’s what they resemble, no?  And that’s exactly what orecchitte means in Italian.

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Prepare the rapini.  The stems are rather tough and I remove about 1/3 to 1/2 of them.  With the remaining stems, I crush them with the side of my butcher’s knife, to bruise them all up and render them tender after cooking. Otherwise, the rapini will be perfectly done but the stems will remain tough.

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Over medium heat, add olive oil to you frying pan and when hot, add the garlic.  Cook for about a minute and then add the rapini.  Your pan will be rather full, but only for a few minutes.  It will wilt down to almost nothing. That’s why I always prepare two batches.  Add some salt and toss. After a few minutes, once they’ve wilted down quite a bit, add a lid and allow the water from the rinsed rapini to help cook them.  If they begin to dry out, add a splash of water.  They should be done after about 5 minutes.

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Once your pasta has been drained, return to the pot and add the cooked sausage and rapini.  Give the whole thing a good toss and serve.  Sprinkle some Pecorino Romano on top and Buon Appetito!

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