Orecchiette with Italian Sausage, Kale and Lemon Ricotta

Inspired by a recent meal at Italic in Austin, Texas, I wanted to recreate their orecchiette dish at home.  The spice of the sausage and red pepper and the bitterness of the kale were cooled by the perfectly fresh lemon ricotta.  Named after “a small ear,”  orecchiette is the perfect shape to capture all of those flavors working in perfect harmony.



Ingredients (serves 2-3):
8 oz. ricotta cheese
Zest of ½ lemon
3 tbsp. olive oil
¾ lb. ground Italian sausage
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
4 oz. orecchiette pasta
¼ cup pasta water, reserved
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the lemon ricotta:Lemon Ricotta

Zest ½ lemon into 8 oz. ricotta and a sprinkle of salt.  Be careful to zest only the yellow part of the lemon, because that’s where the flavor is.  The white part,  called the pith, is very bitter.  Stir to blend.  Set aside while cooking to let the flavors meld together.

Bring pasta water to a boil, salt liberally.  Cook orecchiette al dente according to directions, reserving approximately ¼ cup pasta water when draining.  Pasta water is great because it’s already seasoned with salt and it’s a little starchy, which helps to bind ingredients.

chopped kale

Chop kale into roughly two inch pieces, discarding large stems.  Rinse in colander and remove to dry.

Meanwhile, on medium heat, brown sausage in sauté pan.  Remove sausage from skillet, draining excess oil.  Return skillet to medium heat and add olive oil.  Add garlic and red pepper and sauté for 2 minutes until fragrant before adding kale.  Within a few minutes the kale should start to shrink and turn darker green.  Add reserved pasta water and cook for approximately 5 minutes until kale is cooked.  Give a quick taste before adding salt because the pasta water is already salty.  Add sausage and pasta and stir to combine.

Serve immediately with a big dollop of lemon ricotta.Orecchiette topped with ricotta