Penne with Balsamic, Sausage, Butternut and Greens

 Balsamic Sausage, butternut and Broccoli Rabe

This is another of my favorite one-dish dinner entrees that is just as welcome for family meals as it is for informal entertaining. I will be adding more of these in the coming months so watch for them. In this dish the colors and textures evoke autumn flavors and also makes a hearty winter’s evening entree. The sauce is rich and flavorful, but without the use of tomatoes or cream. With some experimentation, I figured out to use balsamic vinegar instead of canned tomatoes and to be very generous with the olive oil. I was inspired by  a dish called Chicken Balsamico that my friend Bob Russo served at Rocky's Pizza many years ago in Atlanta.

Check out the variations that follow the main recipe and have fun experimenting. The beauty of this kind of recipe is that it is hard to fail to make it taste really good as you have lots of leeway to adjust the seasonings and proportions.

 1/3   cup olive oil 

1       pound Italian sausage made with pork, chicken or turkey

1      medium onion, coarsely chopped

1/2    cup chopped red bell pepper

1       small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes 

1      large clove garlic, minced

1/3    cup balsamic vinegar

1/2-1 teaspoon Tabasco or red pepper flakes

1       teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1       bunch broccoli rabe, thick stems removed and cut into two inch pieces

 1       pound* penne pasta

 Garnish: grated Parmesan cheese, Locatelli Romano or crumbled feta

 Variations:

 1. Substitute kale or spinach for the broccoli rabe. If using spinach, add to the sausage mix when the pasta is almost completely cooked.

 2. Skip the butternut squash and increase the bell pepper to one cup (coarsely chopped) and add 1/2 pound of sliced mushrooms.

 Method:  

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan large enough hold the pasta when cooked. Add the sausage of your choice and brown. Continue sauteeing the onion and red pepper and stir for 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic stirring briefly and then the vinegar, tabasco and crushed fennel seeds. Continue simmering until the onions begin to caramelize and the sausage is cooked through. (At this point you may turn off the heat and set aside until it is time to cook the pasta.)  Balsamic sausage, butternut and greens 

While the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli rabe to the sausage mixture, cover and simmer until done. Adjust seasonings, adding more balsamic, hot sauce, salt and pepper or olive oil as needed.  if  the greens are cooked, turn off the heat and keep warm while the pasta cooks. 

Drain the penne when it is al dente, reserving some of the cooking water to add to the final dish if it is a little dry. Add pasta to the sauce, extra water if desired and toss. Taste again for seasoning. Serve in flat soup bowls and pass cheese separately. 

 Serves 4*

 * One other thing that deserves comment:  the amount of pasta per person.  I recently prepared the recipe with 2 ounce portions (uncooked) of pasta for each person. This makes a dish that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein, vegetables and fiber. But you can use up to four ounces of uncooked pasta per person, adding more olive oil or balsamic or pasta water as needed to keep the dish moist.

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