On Valentine’s Day last year I had the privilege of meeting a living legend, Nancy Silverton. Nancy needs no introduction. However if you are not familiar with Nancy, allow me to introduce her. She is a chef, restaurant owner, founder of La Brea Bakery, and a James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Chef. Nancy is co-owner of my favorite restaurant Mozza. We celebrate Valentine’s Day every year with the best pasta and wine in Los Angeles. If you are fortunate enough to dine when Nancy is present, she is very visible in the center of the restaurant. She works behind the Mozza Bar surrounded by a marble countertop where she prepares delicious bites with mozzarella. It’s mesmerizing to watch her work with such grace and posture. There are so few moments in life when you get to witness someone who has honed their skills to the point that they make everything look simple. To my surprise Nancy walked up to our table and I about broke into tears. Nancy was unbelievably kind and generous with her time. We discussed the dishes I have made from the Mozza cookbook and she informed me of her new cookbook Mozza at Home. She engaged my husband and kids in conversation. Later Nancy posed for a picture and gave me a really good hug before leaving. This was quite the moment for this home cook who rubbed shoulders with a legend on Valentine’s Day.
One of the most popular pasta dishes, and a family favorite, is orecchiette with fennel sausage and swiss chard. The recipe from Nancy’s cookbook takes approximately 90 minutes. I adapted the recipe to an easier and quicker version for the home cook.
Mozza inspired Orecchiette with Fennel Sausage and shaved Brussel Sprouts
4 uncooked sweet sausage links, 4 uncooked hot sausage links, 1 lb and 1 cup of orecchiette pasta, 1/2 cup of onions or shallots chopped, 3 cloves of garlic minced, 1/2 tsp of crushed pepper, 2 cups of chicken stock/broth, 1 tsp of fennel pollen (see cooks note), 1 10 ounce bag of shredded brussel sprouts, 3 TBS of butter, 1 cup of panko bread crumbs, 1/2 cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano plus some for plating, and drizzle of olive oil to finish.
Fill a large pasta pot with water and start to bring to boil. While waiting for water to heat, prepare sausage. Sausage is difficult to break down in a hot skillet. In an unheated large 13″ skillet remove sausage from casings and piece into cold pan. Once sausage is broken down turn on burner to medium-high heat and brown. Sausage has plenty of fat and salt no need to oil pan or season with salt.
It is important to get a good brown on the sausage it helps build flavor.
When sausage looks similar to the picture above add shallots/onions and incorporate into dish. After 2 minutes add garlic, crushed pepper and 3/4 of the shredded brussel sprouts. Sauté crushed peppers, garlic and brussel sprouts for one minute then add chicken stock.
Drop orecchiette into pasta water and cook 1-2 minutes under package instructions for al dente pasta. Reduce the sausage mixture for 5-10 minutes on medium high heat. When the mixture is reduced but still has about 1/2 cup of stock remaining turn off heat. When pasta is ready drain pasta water and add pasta to sausage mixture. Mix pasta into skillet incorporating the sauce onto the pasta. Add fennel pollen, parmigiano-reggiano, and remainder of brussel sprouts.
Lastly, in a smaller skillet add 3 TBS of butter on medium heat. Once butter starts to bubble add panko bread crumbs. Slowly brown crumbs for 5-10 minutes.
Add sausage orecchiette to plate and top with a drizzle of olive oil, more parmiagiano-reggiano, and a tablespoon of bread crumbs. A dusting of fennel pollen would be lovely as well. Enjoy!
- I buy Fennel Pollen online because it is difficult to find. However, you can grind fennel seed in a spice grinder and it tastes very similar.
- Sausage is sometimes sold by weight. I weighed the 8 links and it weighed 1 pound and 10 ounces.
3. Always salt your pasta water. Once water comes to a boil, I put in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt.
4. In order to get the right sausage to pasta ratio I needed a little more pasta. Yes, you have to buy two boxes of orecchiette.
5. I have also used fresh baby spinach or power greens mix in place of brussel sprouts. The power greens mix has baby swiss chard and it resembles Mozza’s version the best.
6. Before throwing out pasta water reserve a cup in case your sauce is to dry you can add some pasta water to loosen.