broccoli

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe

So according to the name up at the top of the page, I do most of my cooking, baking, home improvement projects, and general homemaking in a little known town called Brooklyn.

You’ve heard of it maybe?

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m not sure how familiar most of you are with the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but the area where I live is called Bushwick. Bushwick is pretty much as far north as you can get before accidentally crossing over into Queens, and by subway it’s only a few stops away from it’s bigger, wealthier, more popular sister neighborhood Williamsburg.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2007, Williamsburg was still a growing artist community and Bushwick was an industrial no mans land that hadn’t yet been invaded by more than a handful of hipsters. In those days Williamsburg was still (almost) affordable, and was still home to art galleries, dive bars and record stores, but a good friend of mine had a place in Bushwick and let me crash until I got on my feet, so I landed in Bushwick and never left.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the years since, Williamsburg has become a playland for the rich and famous and one of New York’s biggest tourist destinations. Thanks to rising rents forcing young people further out, Bushwick was recently named one of the hippest neighborhoods in the world by Vogue Magazine. In 2007 Bushwick was a very different place. It was one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which I why I stuck around, but it was also dirty and dangerous and filled with just as many junkies as it was rats.
We’ve gone from dead rats and pepper spray to baby strollers and art galleries. Abandoned buildings and needle exchanges to luxury condos and organic food co-ops.

If I hadn’t found a rent stabilized apartment a few years back I probably couldn’t even afford to live here anymore.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bushwick has always been a neighborhood in transition, since the very beginning. Originally a farming community, in the 1800s Bushwick grew into a beer brewing hub filled with German immigrants, their breweries, and their huge mansions lining Bushwick Avenue. Prohibition eventually shuddered most of the breweries though, and by the 1950s Bushwick had become one of New York’s largest Italian neighborhoods.
Big changes came again as post war white families flocked to the suburbs and were replaced largely by Puerto Ricans immigrants and African Americans. According to US Census records, in just one decade Bushwick’s caucasian population dropped from over 90% in 1960 to less than 40% in 1970.

Thanks to the energy crisis of the 1970s and the closures of most of Bushwick’s industry, the neighborhood was quickly overrun with crime, drugs, abandoned buildings, and urban decay. Bushwick was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by riots and looting during the New York blackout of 1977, forcing even more businesses out of the area. Things didn’t improve any during the 1980s and 90s, but by the late 2000s things finally started to turn around as Williamsburg artists flocked in to take advantage of the neighborhood’s low rents and large loft spaces. I’ve been here for about 8 years and I’ve seen things change so quickly and completely it makes my head spin. I can’t even begin to imagine what this neighborhood will look like in another 10 years.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

One of the easiest places to visualize all this transition first hand is Graham Avenue. Cultures literally clash as streets signs on Graham Ave declare “Avenue of Puerto Rico” south of Metropolitan Ave, but suddenly change to “Via Vespucci” north on up to the BQE. Avenue of Puerto Rico is populated with cheap clothing stores, Iglesias, and Puerto Rican beauty supply shops; but cross Metropolitan Ave and it feels like a whole different neighborhood dotted with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, and wine shops.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell recently heard about an old Italian butcher shop on the Via Vespucci side of Graham Ave called, appropriately enough, The Pork Store. He paid them a visit on his day off and brought home some of the best Italian sausage I’ve ever tasted, along with a gorgeous bag of imported Orecchiette. I knew I wanted to make something amazing to put his Bushwick bounty to good use, but knew I had to keep it simple enough to let these superior ingredients shine.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

All I needed was a big bunch of broccoli rabe, sometimes called rapini, and a bit of nice dry white wine. Broccoli rabe has a grassy bitterness that stands up really well to the unctuous richness of sausage and cream. White wine adds just a touch of sweetness to counteract the bitterness of the rapini, and al dente Orecchiette is nice and thick and adds great texture and happens to be the perfect bite size. A bit of cream gives the reduced white wine a bit of saucy body, and a handful of salty grated parmesan cheese brings everything together.

If you don’t have access to a local Italian butcher shop, just get the freshest and best Italian sausage you can find. If you can’t find orecchiette, any bite sized thick cut pasta, something like penne or bow ties, will do just fine.

This dish is simple, delicious, and perfectly satisfying. The best part though, is how quickly and easily it comes together if you start cooking at the same time you bring the pasta water to a boil. Everything else should be done just in time to drain the pasta and all you have to do is toss it all together and dig in!

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb mild italian sausage, casings removed
1 lb broccoli rabe
1 lb orecchiette pasta
1 cup white wine
1 /2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on one burner while you prepare the rest of the meal on another.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and break up with a spatula or spoon as it cooks. Once the sausage is fully cooked, add half of the white wine and reduce until almost completely dry. Once reduced add the remaining wine and reduce until almost dry again.

Remove thick woody stems from broccoli rabe and discard. Roughly chop or tear the leaves and heads into large bite sized pieces.

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Meanwhile, add heavy cream and broccoli rabe to the sausage and onion mixture and cook until dark green and wilted through, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add about a half cup ladle of pasta water and reduce for about 5 minutes more. Taste and see if seasoning needs to be adjusted. (I didn’t need to add any salt because my sausage was salty enough for the whole dish.) Drain cooked orecchiette and combine with sausage and broccoli rabe mixture. Add grated parmesan and toss toss toss until well combined.

Serve with an additional shaving of parmesan if desired.

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favorite roasted broccoli

So, when it comes to meal planning, I’m kind of old fashioned.

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m not quite sure why, but I often feel like a balanced meal should have three components. You gotta have your protein, your starch, and your veg. I don’t know exactly when or where I picked up this way of thinking about my dinner plate, but it’s deeply ingrained.  Maybe it was from my mother, or maybe my grandmother. When I was studying abroad in France, a chef once told me that plates should always feature odd numbers because odd numbers are more “beautiful” than even ones. Maybe that’s why I’m partial to having three different things on my plate.

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

I really like to experiment with new recipes, but when it comes to filling those three little voids I keep an arsenal of quick and easy go-to recipes for when I’m feeling uninspired or in a rush. One of my favorite vegetable preparations is oven-roasted broccoli. It’s super simple, super healthy, and super delicious!

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m sorry that I waited this long to share this recipe with you, but for a long time I actually thought it was too simple to necessitate a full post of it’s own. It’s not really very original or innovative, and it requires so little work or thought that I assumed it wasn’t worth writing about. A few weeks ago I made this for my mother and she mentioned that she’d never thought to make broccoli this way, and I realized that some of you might enjoy trying a new technique too!

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know a lot of people like to steam or boil their broccoli, so I thought it’d be nice to share another idea that’s just as easy and happens to be (in my opinion) more flavorful. Cooking broccoli with water can make it taste, well, watery. Rather than losing any flavor, roasting your broccoli concentrates and intensifies it. It requires little more work than chopping fresh broccoli into large bite-sized florets, tossing with some olive oil and salt & pepper, and sliding into the oven just long enough to give it a bit of color.

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

This preparation pairs really well with any number of meals. I’ve even used this method to pre-cook broccoli for pasta dishes or salads. It can also easily be tweaked or gussied up to fit the flavors of whatever you’ll be serving it with. If you wanted to add a little extra flavor before roasting, you could toss the broccoli in a little soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, or hot sauce along with the olive oil. My favorite way to prepare it though is to roast it first and then squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the top to bring out the fresh bright green flavor without overpowering or covering it up.

 favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

This will work with other vegetables too, but cooking time may need to be adjusted. I just made some fresh local asparagus (Yay!! Asparagus season!!), roasted it for a few minutes less, and boy was it wonderful! I don’t think this would work very well with frozen vegetables though, because they’d likely end up mushy and overcooked. Part of the appeal of this technique is that vegetables maintain a little bit of their crisp texture and bite, which frozen vegetables have already lost.

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

Cutting up your own head of fresh broccoli is super easy and worth the little (tiny) bit of effort. I usually turn the head over stem-side-up (or on it’s side) and work around the head with a sharp knife cutting the florets off where they branch out naturally, rotating the head as I work my way in. If some of the florets are especially large you can cut them in half or in quarters, from top to bottom. Simple. Easy. Healthy. Delicious.

favorite roasted broccoli | Brooklyn Homemaker

roasted broccoli

1 large head broccoli

1/4-1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (to taste)
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Cut broccoli into large bite sized florets and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, & olive oil and toss toss toss until well coated. Spread evenly over a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until just starting to brown. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese

This Easter Sunday was a beautiful warm sunny day here in New York so Russell and I spent the bulk of our day enjoying the outdoors.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

We woke up bright and early (thanks to our little dog Betty) and decided to go for breakfast a few subway stops away and to take a quiet leisurely walk home. When we got back we took the pups out to the dog park for a while, and then came home and spent most of the rest of the day in our back yarden (combination yard/ garden, just indulge me).  Once the sun started to go down and the air turned a little chilly, we decided it was time to come up with a plan for dinner.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since it was a holiday I thought we deserved something a bit rich and indulgent even though we weren’t celebrating with family or friends. Considering that most of the day was behind us, I also wanted it to be something that I could have on the table and in our bellies in just about an hour or so. I thought a nice hearty pasta dish would be the ideal thing to round out the day, but since I wanted it to be indulgent and creamy, I knew cheese would be the prefect addition. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I should let the cheese take center stage, while still loading it up with all the other hearty tasty things I wanted to add.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I often like to make a quick “healthy-ish” pasta dinner with chicken and broccoli and whatever else sounds good, but after the addition of some bacon and loads of cheese, this dish seemed to stray out of that category. Since it doesn’t have a crunchy crumbly baked topping, it also doesn’t quite feel like a traditional homemade mac & cheese. It seems to fall somewhere in between the two, but since it does have a rich and creamy béchamel cheese sauce, I think that “fully loaded” stovetop mac & cheese is the perfect name for it.  Whatever you want to call it, it is definitely less than healthy, and completely delicious.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Crisping the bacon on its own allows you to render the fat to later make the béchamel. Cubing the uncooked chicken helps it cook faster while remaining flavorful and tender. Roasting the broccoli in the oven instead of, say, boiling it with the pasta, keeps it from tasting waterlogged and soggy and helps it absorb as much of the creamy sauce as possible. Slicing open and roasting the grape tomatoes concentrates their flavor and sweetness and gives them an almost sun-dried quality. Of course, if you wanted to save some time and avoid turning on the oven, you could boil the broccoli with the pasta or steam it while the pasta cooked, and you could use chopped sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted fresh ones. Either way, if you work smartly and efficiently you can finish this dish in just about an hour. It does require a bit of work but none of the steps are overly complicated or time-consuming, so I think it would be an excellent weeknight meal.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wasn’t sure that the chicken or the tomatoes would marry well with the sharp cheddar cheese, but my concerns were totally for nothing. This meal is totally delicious and really hearty and filing, and was the perfect way to finish of our lazy Easter Sunday. The creamy sharp cheese gives it an almost tangy quality that combines really well with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the umami saltiness of the bacon. If you cook the pasta to be al dente this dish has a really nice variety of textures as well as flavors. The chicken is tender but with some substance, the pasta has just a bit of bite, the roasted broccoli has a little bit of crunch, the bacon adds some welcome crispiness, and the perfect creaminess of the cheese sauce rounds the whole meal out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some leftovers that seem to be calling my name.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Fully Loaded Stovetop Mac & Cheese

1 pint washed grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 large bunch broccoli, chopped into bite size florets
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz bacon
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
8 oz white cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb (16 oz) shell pasta (or another shape if you want)

Preheat oven to 400 and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a parchment lined sheet pan, arrange halved tomatoes cut side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and arrange on another parchment lined sheet. Roast both for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked and brown but not burnt or dried out.

While the vegetables roast, slice your bacon against the grain into small thin strips and cook in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until browned and crispy, probably about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Drain most of the grease off into a glass measuring cup, leaving about a tablespoon to cook your chicken. Cut the chicken into bite sized cubes, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove and transfer to paper towel lined plate with bacon.

Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain and return to pasta pot along with cooked tomatoes, broccoli, chicken and bacon. If desired, reserve about a tablespoon or two of bacon to garnish.

Meanwhile, measure out 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and return to the pan, discarding anything left (or save for later use). If you don’t have enough, make up the difference with butter. Add onion and cook until just beginning to brown. Add the flour, whisk until well combined, and cook over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, a little at a time, whisking out any lumps. Cook until thick and bubbly, probably 5 to 8 minutes or so, whisking regularly to prevent lumps. Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat off and add the cheese. Stir in until fully melted and well combined. Pour sauce over pasta and stir stir stir until everything is well combined. Plate and garnish with a little crumbled bacon if desired.