Over the weekend we had our first snow; gentle, delicate flurries that drifted down peacefully from grey skies. It snowed last year too – our first year here in the Pacific Northwest – but just barely, and this time it actually stuck, coating the already icy ground with an inch-or-two-thick blanket of lovely, pure-white snow. We had fun watching the pup romp around in it, for a bit, but spent most of the day cozied up inside, escaping the cold, content to watch the snowflakes settling softly on the pines through the windows.
I do like the idea of starting the new year out fresh, with healthy-eating resolutions and lighter fare. There is something rejuvenating about this time of year, but Winter days like these still call for warm-you-up-from-the-inside comfort food. Hearty soups and stews and braises, and steamy bowls of pasta.
Green smoothies alone just aren’t gonna cut it.
This flavorful pasta dish is a perfect compromise: soul-satisfying in the way that a big bowl of pasta should be, but packed with healthier ingredients in the form of whole grain penne pasta, lots of garlic, and dark green, broccoli florets. I toss in some chicken sausage (studded with sundried tomatoes) and a good bit of Parmesan, because really, what is pasta with parm?
Now, though this recipe is written for regular broccoli, I actually prefer using tender broccolini. Sometimes labeled as “young/baby broccoli” in the grocery store, broccolini is actually a hybrid, crossed with Kai-lan, or Chinese kale, and has a sweeter flavor, longer, more tender stock, and cooks to al dente perfection in a flash. If you can find it, go that route. If not, don’t worry, standard broccoli is, of course, still delicious.
If you’re not a fan of broccoli/broccolini, you could also definitely use a combination of spinach, kale, Swiss chard or other dark leafy green, instead.
However you mix it up, one of my favorite parts of this recipe is that the whole thing comes together super quickly. You start a big pot of salty pasta water boiling, heat some olive oil, garlic and onion, sauté the broccoli and sausage, and everything’s ready to go by the time the whole-grain penne is cooked. After a quick toss together – and a generous dusting of Parmesan – a healthy, hearty, resolution-worthy dinner is on the table in under half an hour.
- 1/2 lb uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced
- 1 medium yellow or sweet onion, minced
- 4 (3 oz) links cooked/smoked chicken sausage, sliced
- 1 bunch broccoli,* chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 3 oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus more for serving
- kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions (about 11 minutes).
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-heat, until the butter is melted and the oil just begins to shimmer. Add the garlic and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped sausage to the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes.
- During the last two minutes of cooking, add the chopped broccoli to the pasta pot. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of pasta water.
- Add the drained pasta, broccoli, and reserved pasta water to the skillet with the sausage. Stir to combine. Add the Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm with an extra dusting of Parmesan. Enjoy!
Make it gluten-free: Switch out the pasta for a gluten-free version. My favorite by far is Jovial brown rice pasta, which tastes as much like the “real” thing as any I’ve tried. I find it in several shapes at Whole Foods or on Amazon.