It's A Keeper: Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage with a Ricotta Surprise

Last night's dinner was a definite keeper: Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage with a Ricotta Surprise. It's no shock that the part of this recipe that piqued my interest was the ricotta surprise, which is a ricotta mixture placed in the bottom of the bowl, hot pasta is dropped on top of it, then mixed all together just prior to eating. The picture at left was pre-surprise.

The recipe took me about 40 minutes to make and it can be found in Express Lane Meals. Here it is with my comments in brackets:

4 Servings

1 pound short-cut pasta, such as penne [I used whole wheat penne, mmmmm.]
1 cup ricotta cheese
Zest and juice of one lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), once around the pan
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 large head broccoli [I used the pre-washed and pre-cut florets that come in a bag. They looked much better than the other broccoli in the store and saved at least 2 steps in this recipe (washing and chopping).]
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (eyeball it) [I used about 1/2 teaspoon because we like it a bit spicy.]
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, a couple of generous handfuls, chopped [Not a huge parsley fan, so I used only one handful]
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano cheese, plus some to pass at the table

Place a large pot of hot water with a tight-fitting lid over high heat and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, add some salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Heads up: you will need to use about 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking liquid for the sauce before you drain the pasta. [I love the little practical remarks scattered throughout this cookbook.]

In a small mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, salt, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Reserve the ricotta mixture on the countertop and let it come up to room temp. The flavors of the cheese and lemon will develop as the cheese warms up.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the EVOO. Add the sausage and break it up with the back of a wooden spoon into a small bite-size pieces. [I hate standing over the pot doing this, so I break it up with my fingers as I put it into the pot.] Really go at breaking the meat up; it will make a difference in the end. Cook the meat until brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. While the sausage is browning, prepare the broccoli. Cut the broccoli tops into small florets. Remove the fibrous outer layer of the stem (just square it off using your knife), then thinly slice the tender center portion of the stem. [See how much time I saved by using the bag of florets? It meant I only had florets too, no stem.]

Once the sausage is brown, remove it to a paper-towel-lined plate. Return the skillet to the heat and add all of the broccoli and the chopped onion. Spread the veggies out in an even layer in the pan, season with some salt and pepper, and let the broccoli brown up a bit before stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to cook 2 minutes more. Add the sausage back to the skillet along with the chicken stock. Ladle in some cooking water from the pasta and bring up to a simmer. Cook until the broccoli is tender and the liquids have reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, parsley, and cooked, well-drained pasta. Toss to combine and simmer 1 last minute to allow the pasta to soak in the sauce and flavors. Turn the heat off, add the grated cheese, and toss to combine.

To serve, place a large dollop of the pepper-lemon-ricotta mixture into each of 4 shallow bowls and bury it with the host pasta. Once you are at the table, mix it up with a fork to distribute the ricotta cheese. Serve with extra grated cheese.

Recipe from Express Lane Meals, by Rachael Ray


  1. i've made this and i agree. my only issue is that it is a HUGE amount of food! granted i made it for just two people, but it must have lasted us for close to 6 servings. a pound of meat plus a pound of pasta does not equal 4 servings. but that's kind of an issue with most of her recipes, especially the pasta ones.

  2. I agree - the portions are huge for her pasta dishes. Luckily, my husband loves leftovers!


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