Orecchiette with Smoked Lamb Sausage and Dandelion Greens
Il Palio, Chapel Hill, NC
Il Palio’s orecchiette pasta dish celebrates the history and culinary distinctions of Puglia, Italy, with hallmarks such as rich doses of Pugliese extra virgin olive oil. The pasta itself is crafted using farina grano arso, a grain that the peasants traditionally made from burnt wheat, giving the dish a lovely toasted aroma. Rather than using traditional pork sausage, Il Palio features their housemade smoked lamb sausage, which adds a rich, smoky flavor and couples perfectly with the punch of the garlic and Southern Italian’s famous bitter greens—but a home cook could certainly substitute with storebought merguez or Italian pork sausage.
Grano Arso Orecchiette*:
1/2 cup grano arso flour or semolina flour (most readily-available grano arso flour is already toasted—if you purchase it toasted, skip the first step of the recipe)
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
*Alternately, feel free to substitute with 2 1/2 cups store-bought pasta
3/4 pound smoked lamb sausage (if not easily accessible, merguez or Italian pork sausage would be a great substitute)
Sea salt to taste
1 pound dandelion greens
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 thinly sliced garlic cloves
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Make the orecchiette: preheat the oven to 300°F. Evenly spread the raw grano arso flour (or semolina flour) onto a sheet tray. Toast the semolina in the oven for about 45 minutes until it is dark brown in color and has an assertively toasted smell. Use a large spatula to gently mix the semolina every 15 minutes while it toasts. Allow the flour to cool completely before using.
In Kitchen Aid mixer set with dough hook attachment, mix the flours and water together. Knead the dough on a medium speed for about 10 minutes until it is a smooth, elastic ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow the dough to rest for a minimum of 1 hour.
After the dough has rested, cut and shape it into 4 long log-shaped pieces. Keep the pieces of dough you are not using covered while working with one log at a time. Roll each log from the center, stretching the dough into a long rope approximately 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut the ropes into small, disc-shaped pieces. Flatten each piece into a small disc by pressing your thumb into the center of each piece of dough. The pasta should resemble little ears. Set aside the prepared orecchiette until ready to serve. When done you should have approximately 2 1/2 cups of pasta.
Using a grill pan or cast-iron skilled, cook the sausages on low heat until they’re crisp all over, about 10 minutes. Allow the sausages to cool and then cut them into 1/3-inch slices.
Blanch the dandelion greens in a large pot of boiling salted water (leaving the pot uncovered), until the ribs of the greens are tender, about 4 minutes. Using tongs or a spider, transfer the greens to a colander. Rinse the greens under cold water to stop them from cooking. Using a spoon or your hands, gently press out the water from the greens and drain well. Cut the drained greens into 1/2-inch pieces.
To cook the pasta, bring the same pot of salted water used to cook the dandelion greens to a boil. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring until the garlic is a pale golden color, about 45 seconds. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the drained greens, reserved lamb sausage, and sea salt and sauté until everything is coated with oil and heated through, about 2 minutes.
Place the pasta in the boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and add it directly to the pan with the greens and sausage and toss vigorously. Remove from the heat, add half of the Pecorino cheese and toss to incorporate.
Plate and serve immediately. Finish each plate with the remaining pecorino cheese.
4 to 6 servings