I once ate a fantastic pasta with spicy sausage and rapini at Bibiana here in DC, and I’ve been in love with the flavor combination ever since. When David mentioned that I hadn’t made mac and cheese in a while, I couldn’t help but fuse the two for a very hearty winter meal. The gems of spiced, browned sausage are so delicious that you’ll mine them right out of your bowl. If you’re in the mood for something just a little lighter, I’ve got something for you too: a few slight tweaks, and you’ve got a fantastic pasta dish, which I also couldn’t help but whip up a few days later. Let’s do this!
For 4 generous servings of the mac and cheese version, boil 1/2 pound of fusilli. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and set it aside. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the mix-ins. Heat a pan with a drizzle of olive oil, and get 3 pork sausage links (about 10 ounces total). Slice the sausage casings, and pop the meat out of the casings and into the pan. Break the sausages up, and let them brown and cook through.
Season the sausage with 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes and the secret ingredient, 1/2 tablespoon of CUMIN SEEDS! While the sausage cooks, slice 1 cup of broccolini. Once the sausage has lost almost all pinkness, add the broccolini to the pan, give it a stir, and turn off the heat.
Preheat your oven to 400º F. Time to make the cheese sauce. Shred 1.25 cups of gruyere cheese (I frequently use a mix of gruyere and cheddar) and grate 1/4 cup of parmesan. Melt 1.5 tablespoons of butter in a pot (for ease, use the pasta pot once it’s free), and then stir in 1.5 tablespoons of flour. Once combined, slowly whisk in 1.25 cups of milk. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a boil, then down to a simmer until it thickens. Stir in 1 cup of the shredded cheese until it melts. Add the pasta, sausage, and broccolini to the pot, and stir to combine. Taste it, and season with salt, black pepper, and more red pepper flakes or cumin seeds if needed. Stir in the parmesan, and then transfer the mac and cheese to a baking dish. Top the mac with the remaining shredded cheese, and bake it for 15-20 minutes until the top cheese is golden brown (you can broil if necessary). Once cooled slightly, serve and enjoy! Mac and cheese is the best because it reheats beautifully for a bonus meal.
If you don’t want to go so heavy on the cheese, then turn this meal into a pasta! For 2 generous servings, boil 1/4 pound of fusilli until it is al dente. Prepare 2 sausage links (about 6 ounces) as described above, with 1 teaspoon each of red pepper flakes and cumin seeds. Add 2/3 cup of sliced broccolini and 2 minced garlic cloves to the pan shortly after adding the sausage. Once the sausage has no pink left and the broccolini is tender, reduce the heat to low, and add the pasta to the pan. Add about 1/8 cup of pasta water to the pan, along with a generous drizzling of olive oil. Taste the pasta, and season it with salt, black pepper, and more red pepper flakes or cumin seeds as needed. Stir in a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese, and serve. Although this pasta certainly isn’t a “light” meal, it’s definitely lighter than the mac and cheese and delivers most of the same flavors. But given the choice…I’d go with the mac.
- Pasta- 1/2 pound
- Sausage- 10 ounces
- Broccolini- 1 cup
- Red pepper flakes- 1/2 tablespoon
- Cumin seeds- 1/2 tablespoon
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper
- Butter- 1.5 tablespoons
- Flour- 1.5 tablespoons
- Milk- 1.25 cups
- Gruyere/cheddar cheese- 1.25 cups, shredded
- Parmesan cheese- 1/4 cup, grated