Friday, August 13, 2010

Orecchiette with Turkey Sausage and Pan-Roasted Corn

Heard in our kitchen last evening:

Husband: There's nothing to eat.
Me: There's tons of food in the house.
Husband: There's food, but nothing to eat.
Me: Challenge accepted.

I'd like to say I had to dig deep for this one, but it was a no-brainer.  Our refrigerator provided inspiration in the form of four ears of corn and a package of turkey sausages we didn't get around to grilling this weekend, and the rest of the ingredients were already on hand. (The bacon was a surprise, actually.  My brother recently gifted us some home-cured and -smoked bacon, and it totally makes this dish.)

Served with a green salad, this is the perfect meal for the cold, gloomy evenings we've been experiencing at the beach this season. The corn and red pepper are bright and sweet and summery, while the bacon, sausage and pasta are warming and comforting.  The husband loved it. (Overheard at the dinner table: "This is restaurant-quality." Booyah.)

A few notes about substitutions: if you're vegetarian, you could easily swap out the bacon for a vegetarian substitute, but I mean it when I say the bacon (or "bacon") makes the dish.  Its smoky flavor imparts the umami that takes it from "meh" to "aah!"  Baby tomatoes would be a delicious addition, and you could swap out the sausage for roasted baby potatoes or white beans. As for the pasta, I have yet to come across gluten-free or whole-grain orecchiette, so if you want to go that route, look for shells.  You want a pasta shape that cradles bits of corn and shallot in every bite.

The lone red pepper piece on the rim of the bowl kills me.

Orecchiette with Turkey Sausage and Pan-Roasted Corn
Serves six

1 lb. orecchiette
4 slices bacon
1 20-ounce package lean Italian-seasoned turkey sausage, removed from casings
2 large shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
Fresh kernels from 4 ears corn
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, grated or shaved
4 cups baby arugula
Salt and pepper
Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)
Chopped chives, for garnish (optional)

1. Fill a large pasta pot with cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add pasta and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. (About 10-12 minutes or according to package instructions.) Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water. Do not rinse the pasta. (Depending on your timing, you will either add the pasta to the pan as in Step 3, or return it to the pot. If returning pasta to the pot, toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil to keep it from drying out.)

2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Crumble the bacon when it's cool enough to handle.

3. Pour bacon fat from the pan and return it to the flame. Crumble the sausage into the pan and saute until browned, breaking up any large chunks. (Try not to stir the sausage too much, otherwise it won't brown.) Add the shallots and corn and saute until they begin to caramelize. Add the red pepper and saute for about a minute. Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine, followed by the Parmesan, 1 cup reserved pasta water (from Step 1) and the arugula. (The starch in the pasta water, combined with the Parmesan, creates a sauce of sorts that brings everything together.)

4. Remove pan from heat. Crumble two-thirds of the bacon into the pasta mixture and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream and a sprinkling of bacon and chives.

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