Andrew Carmellini, who was until recently the chef at the fabulous restaurant A Voce, uses a curious ingredient to add smooth, rich texture and full, earthy flavor to Rigatoni Pugliese: chickpeas. It struck me as a little strange at first; wouldn't chickpeas pureed along with their liquids take things in a decidedly non-Italian, hummus-y direction? At least, I thought they would. But apparently, chickpeas are used all the time in Puglia. And the Pugliese know good food. So I went with it, and am very glad I did.
You start by browning a pound of spicy Italian sausage, out of the casing. Add about three cups of tomato sauce (I used my mom's recipe but any basic one would work). And then, in goes pureed chickpeas and liquid. They add a creaminess that looks a lot like heavy cream would, swirling into the sauce, lightening it in color while thickening it. For the final touch, you blanch and sautee broccoli rabe with a few whole chickpeas and garlic. You boil the macaroni until it's al dente, and then pour it into the sauce, tossing in the rabe and chickpeas. (I added a pat of butter and some pecorino cheese, but that's optional.)
It's a spectacular Sunday supper. I love the idea of substituting a legume for a heavy dairy ingredient. Just a little lighter, but still plenty comforting.--S
Serves 4 to 6
For the sauce:
1 15-oz can chickpeas
¼ c plus 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
3 c basic tomato sauce
½ t ground fennel seed
For the broccoli rabe and rigatoni:
1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned of outer leaves and bottom stems trimmed
1 lb rigatoni
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced Goodfellas thin
¼ t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
To finish the dish:
2 T butter
2 t extra-virgin olive oil
1 c grated pecorino cheese
To prepare the sauce:
1. Drain the chickpeas well, reserving the liquid. Blend half the chickpeas (about 1 c) and all their liquid on high until the mixture forms a smooth paste, about 1 minute.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Squeeze the sausage out of the casing and add the meat to the pan. Brown it, stirring regularly and breaking the meat up into small pieces with a spoon or potato masher.
3. Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine.
4. Add the chickpea purée and the fennel seed and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat until the mixture forms a loose sauce and the flavors are combined, about 15 minutes.
To prepare the broccoli rabe and the rigatoni:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Blanch the broccoli rabe until the stems are just softened and the color has deepened, about 90 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider to a bowl of ice water to immediately stop the cooking process.
3. Return the water to a boil, add the rigatoni and cook until it’s al dente. Drain but do not rinse the pasta.
4. Warm the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium sauté pan. Add the broccoli rabe, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the remaining half of the chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the greens are well coated, about 1 minute.
To finish the dish:
1. Return the rigatoni to the pot. Add the sauce and cook on medium-high heat, mixing well, until the pasta is well coated, about 1 minute.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, olive oil, and half the pecorino cheese.
3. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a large serving dish and pour the broccoli rabe and chickpea mixture over the top. Top with the rest of the pecorino cheese and serve immediately.