One of my favorite pasta shapes is Orecchiette, which means “little ears”. Although Orecchiette comes from the boot-shaped Apulia region in southern Italy, my Sicilian grandmother often used it. My grandmother, Cesarina, didn’t own a cookbook, but made mouth-watering bowls of pasta from whatever she had on hand. Although my grandmother died over four decades ago, I can still remember the subtle mix of sweet, salty, tart, and savory tastes in every bite. My orecchiette recipe uses Beyond Sausage – Sweet Italian, roasted cauliflower, capers, raisins, onions, and pine nuts to pay homage to Cesarina’s instinctive Sicilian style of cooking.
Start by cutting your cauliflower into flowerets. Toss the flowerets with a few tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil, and roast them in a 400F degree oven for 25 minutes while you get the pasta water boiling and prepare the rest of the sauce.
Since each Beyond Sausage contains about 5 grams of saturated fat, they ooze a fair amount of grease while cooking – just like a real Italian sausage. Although I drained the cooked Beyond Sausage on paper towels after sautéing, I decided to use the rendered fat (supplemented with a bit of olive oil) to sauté the diced Vidalia onion until softened and translucent.
Instead of adding chopped or diced tomatoes as I often do, I used 3 tablespoons of tomato paste to add a deeper, richer flavor. My new favorite tomato paste is Bionaturae Organic Tomato Paste, which comes in a convenient 7 ounce BPA-free glass jar. Personally, I hate opening a can of tomato paste to use a few tablespoons, and like that the jarred tomato paste will keep in my fridge after opening for up to ten days.
To give my sauce sweetness, I used 1/3 cup of golden raisins soaked in a cup of very hot water for about 10-15 minutes. (If you’re concerned about the fact that sulfur dioxide is used to preserve color during the drying process, then just substitute organic raisins that are dark and dried naturally.) I then used the sweetened water that the raisins soaked in to dilute my tomato paste-based sauce.
By the time the sauce has simmered for about 15 minutes in a covered skillet, the cauliflower should be ready, and the water in your pasta pot should be at a rolling boil. Add a tablespoons of salt to the boiling water and the orecchiette. My favorite brand of orecchiette is made by DeCecco . . .
. . . but if your grocery store doesn’t carry DeCecco, Barilla also makes a good quality orecchiette that may be easier to find. (Just keep in mind that the DeCecco orecchiette comes in a 16 ounce box, and the Barilla orecchiette comes in a 12 ounce box, so you may need to adjust proportions a bit depending on which brand you decided to use.)
I toasted organic pine nuts in a small skillet while the pasta is cooking and then added the remaining ingredients in the sauce as it slowly simmered.
The sauce is lighter, fresher, and more nuanced than a traditional hearty tomato-based sauce, and I love the way the ear-shaped orecchiette act as little catch basins for the cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, and raisins!
My recipe is completely vegan and I urge you to try it without the crutch of cheese that pervades most Italian pasta dishes. The sweetness of the onion and raisins, the salty bite of the capers, the spicy note of the red pepper flakes, and the creamy crunch of the toasted pine nuts, all shine through when paired with the meaty richness of the Sweet Italian Beyond Sausage chunks and the oven roasted cauliflower.
- ⅓ cup golden raisins (or substitute organic raisins)
- 1 head of cauliflower, separated into flowerets
- 1-2 Tablespoons organic olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, divided use
- 14-ounce package Beyond Sausage - Sweet Italian, thawed
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, diced
- Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and hot red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons organic tomato paste
- 2 ounces capers, rinsed and drained
- Juice of ½ lemon (optional)
- ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1 box orecchiette (DeCecco comes in a 16 ounce box, and Barilla comes in a 12 ounce box)
- Freshly grated Pecorino Romano (optional)
- Soak the golden raisins in a full cup of very hot water forout 15 minutes. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt when the water is boiling.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Put the cauliflower flowerets into a medium bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer the flowerets to a foil lined rimmed baking sheet, and roast for approximately 25 minutes.
- Saute thawed Beyond Sausages in a lightly oiled skillet for about 6-7 minutes, turning to brown each sausage on all sides. Remove the cooked sausages to a plate lined with a triple thickness of paper towels, but don't wipe out the skillet. Cut the sausages into one-inch chunks when cooled.
- Depending on how much fat has been rendered from the cooked sausages, you may need to add a little olive oil before you begin sautéing the diced Vidalia onion. Cook slowly until the onion pieces are soft and translucent. Season with salt, pepper, and a healthy sprinkling of hot red pepper flakes.
- Drain the raisins. reserving the water in which they soaked, and put the raisins in a small bowl. Add the tomato paste to the still warm water that the raisins soaked in and stir until dissolved. Add the tomato paste mixture to the skillet. Cover and simmer over low heat for about ten minutes, and then add the drained raisins and capers, and cook for about 5 minutes uncovered to marry the flavors, Taste and add a little more seasoning, and the optional lemon juice, to taste.
- While the sauce is cooking, check on your cauliflower, and toast the pine nuts in a small skillet.
- Cook the orecchiette in the rapidly boiling salted water for approximately 9-11 minutes, depending on which brand of pasta you used. When the pasta is cooked to your liking, reserve at least a cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta, and put it back in the still hot pasta pot. Add the roasted cauliflower, the sauce, the chunks of Beyond Sausage, and toss. Add some of the pasta water to loosen the sauce and make sure that all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Portion the pasta into bowls and top with the toasted pine nuts (and optional cheese, if you must!)
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PS: Remember, if you absolutely must add cheese, please make sure that it is just a light dusting of freshly grated Pecorino Romano!