Growing up in a pretty traditional Italian family (at least as far as food is concerned), you might think it would shock them that I chose to be a sushi chef. It certainly did, but after some coaxing and experimental food offerings, my family embraced the fact that I loved food and decided to place my affections in the world of sushi… except my Grandmother. She still, to a certain extent, finds it revolting and has vowed to never touch the “stuff”. But alas, I am her beloved first grandson, and the fact that I became a chef was reason enough for her to be proud of me and know that I will carry on the food traditions of our family, especially spaghetti with gravy. For those of you non-Italians, that means spaghetti with marinara sauce.
Flash forward to several years later, when I meet the girl of my dreams. To my dismay, I found out that she has an allergy to tomatoes! My first thought was, “Grams is not going to be happy with me… again”. Of course, once she met my now wife, she was just as enthralled by her as I was, but I think deep down she still feels there is something not right about her Italian grandson marrying a girl who cannot eat spaghetti with gravy.
Because of this, I have had to explore the world of pasta beyond the gravy. Too many people revert to the ubiquitous jar of sauce that has been in their pantry for the last six months to make a quick weeknight meal, buut they are missing out on some wonderful easy dishes. It has been one of my missions to find or create great pasta dishes sans tomatoes. So to start my search, I did what any Italian would do… I went to Italy. There I found two dishes that really struck me, Cacio e Pepe and Orecchiette con Salsiccia. Here is a recipe I created that melds the two together and makes something magical that both Grams and my wife cannot get enough of.
Pasta with Italian Sausage, Tuscan Kale, and Pecorino cheese (lots of Pecorino cheese)
1 pound Your favorite dried pasta, I prefer Gemmeli
1 pound Hot or Mild Italian Sausage, broken into small bite size pieces
1 Shallot, sliced very thin
3 Garlic cloves, sliced very thin
2 bunches Tuscan Kale, thick stems removed and chopped (also works well with blanched Rapini or Broccolini)
½-1 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. It is best to use a pasta pot that has the strainer insert. If you do not have one you need to make sure you reserve at least 1 cup of the water that you boiled the pasta in before you strain it. Add the pasta, cook for the amount of time on the box, MINUS 3 MINUTES. The pasta should be undercooked and still slightly crunchy.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. When warm, brown the sausage well and remove from the pan and reserve. It is okay if the sausage is not fully cooked through. You should have some fat in the pan from the sausage; use this to caramelize the shallots over medium heat. Add the garlic and the kale, cook until the kale is just wilted. Season well with salt and pepper and remove all the ingredients from the pan and reserve. Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to the same sauté pan and bring to a boil on high heat. Add the reserved pasta, sausage, and the cheese. Stir frequently. Once the pasta is fully cooked through and about half of the water has evaporated you should have a “sauce” with a creamy consistency. Add the reserved kale, drizzle with the olive oil, and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve in large bowls with lots more pecorino cheese on the side.
Buon Appetito! Try this recipe at home, let me know how it came out and if you missed the gravy.