This Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale is a variation on one of my favorite fast weeknight dinners, pasta + parmesan + vegetable. If you’re a Budget Bytes veteran you probably have this formula memorized, but for all my new friends, this one will change your dinner game! I’ll list some variations and link to some of my favorites in the past, so you can see how this easy formula will help you make weeknight dinner effortless.
What Kind of Sausage is Best?
For this recipe I used an Italian style chicken sausage from Aldi, but this recipe is so flexible that you can use just about any flavor chicken sausage, regular pork Italian sausage, or even a vegetarian sausage (Aldi makes a great vegetarian sausage, too). If you want your dish extra spicy, choose a sausage that contains red pepper.
Can I Make This Non-Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale?
Yes, absolutely. I love the extra spicy kick, but this recipe is definitely delicious enough to hold its own without any heat. To make this recipe not spicy, make sure your sausage does not contain red pepper, skip the red pepper flakes below, and reduce the amount of freshly cracked black pepper.
Can I Use a Different Pasta Shape?
Definitely. Orecchiette can sometimes be hard to find and is definitely a bit more expensive than some other pasta shapes, so feel free to swap it out with whatever you have available. My second choice would be either thin spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti (that nutty flavor goes great with Parmesan), or even wide egg noodles. Penne is also an easy and convenient choice.
What Can I Use in Place of Kale?
Fresh spinach is great, as is other green vegetables like broccoli florets or asparagus. I’m not against throwing a few grape tomatoes in there as well!
Make it Vegetarian!
This Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale is actually pretty easy to make vegetarian! As mentioned above, Aldi makes a great vegetarian sausage that is very similar to chicken sausage. I also make this recipe quite often without any sausage at all, and still love it. For the Parmesan you can either use some nutritional yeast flakes straight, or whip up a batch of vegan parmesan. Here are a couple recipes for vegan parm from a couple of bloggers that I trust: How to Make Vegan Parmesan Cheese—Minimalist Baker, Easy Vegan Parmesan Cheese Recipe—Cookie+Kate.
Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale
- Cook the orecchiette according to the package directions. Before draining the orecchiette in a colander, reserve about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water.
- While the orecchiette is cooking, begin preparing the rest of the recipe. Slice the chicken sausage into medallions.
- Add the olive oil and chicken sausage to a large pot and sauté over medium until the chicken sausage begins to brown (about 5 minutes).
- Add the minced garlic and butter to the pot with the sausage and continue to sauté for one more minute.
- Next, add the chopped kale and reserved pasta water. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook and stir until the kale has wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Use your spoon to dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the pot as you stir.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cooked and drained orecchiette. If the pasta and kale are still steaming heavily, let the contents of the pot cool for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release steam. You want the Parmesan to coat the pasta, but not melt.
- Once the pasta and kale is hot, but not steaming, add the grated Parmesan, crushed red pepper, salt, and about 15-20 cranks of a pepper mill. Stir to combine, then taste and add more salt if needed. Serve warm.
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How to Make Orecchiette with Sausage – Step by Step Photos
First, cook 8 oz. orecchiette according to the package directions. Before draining the pasta, reserve about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water.
Slice 12 oz. chicken sausage into medallions. Add the chicken sausage to a large pot along with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Sauté the sausage over medium until it begins to brown (about 5 min), then add 2 minced cloves of garlic and 2 Tbsp butter. Continue to sauté for one minute more.
Add 8 oz, chopped kale to the pot along with the reserved pasta water.
Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to stir and cook until the kale has wilted. Use your spoon to dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the pot as you stir.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir the cooked and drained orecchiette into the kale and sausage. If the pasta and kale are still steaming hot, let it cool for about five minutes because you don’t want the Parmesan to melt when added, you just want it to stick to the pasta. Once it has cooled a bit, add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper, a pinch of salt, and some freshly cracked pepper (about 15-20 cranks of a pepper mill).
Stir until everything is combined and coated in Parmesan, then taste and add another pinch of salt if needed.
Serve warm and enjoy!!