Introvert’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Broccolini

People who meet me are often surprised when I describe myself as an introvert. On the surface, I come across as outgoing, exuberant even, but secretly I find human interaction to be very exhausting. Craig, on the other hand, finds human interaction to be incredibly stimulating. Not a surprise, then, that he describes himself as an extrovert. (We once read an article that said that introverts lose energy when they’re around people and that extroverts gain energy when they’re around people, and that made total sense to us.)

And yet, nothing is ever so completely black and white. Despite being mostly introverted, I still enjoy going out (especially to restaurants, surprise surprise) and despite being mostly extroverted, Craig can really enjoy a night in. Which is why, last Saturday when he flew back from New York, we had to have a discussion about our evening. A group of friends were going out and we were invited. I bought ingredients to make a delicious dinner. Craig’s ideal evening was for me to make the dinner and then for us to go out with these friends. My ideal evening was to make the dinner and to lay on the couch watching Project Runway. Ultimately, I gave Craig a choice: (1) we could go out and meet these friends, but if we did that, I’d want to go out to dinner first so I wouldn’t be smelly and also so I’d be motivated to go out; or (2) I could make this delicious dinner, but then we’d have to stay in. Craig puzzled it over for a second and then chose the only acceptable option considering that I’d gone shopping and that I’m his husband and really he’d been away for a week so of course he’d want to stay in, Option 2.

I mean, just look at these beautiful ingredients, acquired from Cookbook in Echo Park:

Even an extrovert would have to be excited to stay in and eat what those ingredients had to offer.

The idea for this recipe came, once again, from PBS… this time Nick Stellino’s show. I watched him make orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe on Saturday morning and by Saturday night, I was making it too. Only: I couldn’t find orecchiette at Cookbook, so I went with mini-rigatoni.

To make this, bring a big pot of water to a boil and salt it just enough to it tastes like tasty broth (not sea water, as I learned once; that’s too much). Meanwhile, in a skillet, pour in some olive oil, start heating it, and add three or four Italian sausages out of the casing and start breaking them up with a spoon.

The trick here is to really get this sausage nicely broken up but also really browned and caramelized. (Wait, is that redundant?) So let it go for a while. You may even want to walk away… but not too far. Like into the living room, not around the block.

When the sausage is golden brown and there are brown bits on the bottom of the pan, push all of the sausage to one side and add 3 to 4 cloves of garlic that you’ve thinly sliced and some red pepper flakes to another splash of olive oil in the pan (Lidia Bastianich calls this a “hot spot”; my kind of Saturday night hot spot).

Meanwhile, while this is happening, drop your broccolini (at least I think this was broccolini) into the boiling, salted water. This recipe is all about timing so you want your garlic just to toast, not to burn, while the broccolini (let’s just say it was broccolini) gets blanched.

I’d say the more important thing here is that your garlic doesn’t burn, so if it’s darkening and your broccolini doesn’t look soft yet, just lift it anyway into the pan with the sausage and the garlic. It’ll keep cooking in there anyway.

Drop your pasta, now, into the boiling, salted, broccolini water and add a ladleful of that pasta water into the pan with the sausage and broccolini. Let them cook together, stirring all the while, until the broccolini and sausage are sort of married. Wonder which one’s the introvert and which one’s the extrovert?

If the pan gets dry, continue adding the pasta water to it. This is really your sauce. If it’s evaporating too fast, lower the heat.

Finally, when the pasta is just al dente (about a minute or two less than it says to cook it on the package), add it to the pan with the sausage and broccolini.

Add another ladleful of pasta water and cook on high heat, stirring all the while, until the liquid is almost gone and the pasta has taken on the sausage flavor. (I mean you won’t know that by looking, but that’s what’s happening… it’s sucking in all that sausage/garlic/broccolini liquid).

Off the heat, add a big handful of Parmesan cheese (see lead photo). Then scoop into bowls, drizzle on some good olive oil, sprinkle on some more red pepper flakes, and top with even more Parmesan.

You may have read this post and thought to yourself, “What a manipulative introvert.” But, if that’s true, at least I’m a manipulative introvert who makes really good pasta. And, I’m sorry, but I’d rather be here at this table than at the coolest bar anywhere on earth. Eat that, extroverts!

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