Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Homemade Vegan Italian Fennel and Garlic Sausage

If you’ve ever been to an old-school Italian restaurant, you’ve likely seen Orecchiette with Broccolli Rabe and Fennel Sausage on the menu. This classic dish is incredibly simple and has few ingredients, but its flavor profile is distinctive and highly memorable thanks to the combination of slightly bitter broccoli rabe, licorice-like fennel, and sweet but sharp garlic, which together cut through and balance the richness of the sausage and olive oil.

While this dish can easily be veganized by simply omitting the sausage or using a store-bought vegan one instead, the end result will lack the complexity and depth of the traditional version. (Store bought vegan Italian sausages are usually not only mushy, but are often composed of odd combinations of add-ins like sun-dried tomatoes and bell peppers that would never appear in meat sausages.) Thanks to the magic of seitan, though, it’s possible to recreate the texture and flavor of the real thing in your own home kitchen in almost the same way little Italian Grandmas have been doing for centuries. Making your own sausages from scratch takes a little extra work, but will make for an impressive and delicious meal worthy of a special occasion.

IMG_0118Vegan Italian Fennel and Garlic Sausage

(makes 2 large sausages, about 1 lb)

  • 1 batch Veganomicon‘s simple seitan, ingredients combined but not mixed
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
  • about 1 quart vegetable broth
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Add all spices, garlic, and parsley to unmixed simple seitan recipe and stir to combine until the ingredients form a dough. Knead for a few minutes.
  3. Divide dough in two, and knead each piece separately, beginning to squeeze, twist, and stretch to elongate the dough into a sausage-like shape. You’ll find that the dough is very elastic and tends to shrink back as soon as you let go, but don’t worry about this too much, as the tin foil (see next step) will help it hold its shape.
  4. Tear off a large piece of tinfoil (I find 12in by 6in works well, but it’s not an exact science. You want the piece to be a couple inches longer than the sausage and wide enough to roll the dough up a couple timed over.) Place one piece of dough on the edge of the foil and use your fingers to stretch it out a bit, leaving about an inch of extra foil on both sides. Roll the sausage up relatively tightly, leaving about a millimeter of extra space. Twist up the ends, leaving a little air on both sides.
  5. Set broth in a large pot on the stove-top and bring to a low simmer.
  6. Meanwhile, bake the sausages for about 15 minutes on a baking sheet, until the sausages are cooked enough to hold their shape, but still somewhat mushy to the touch. Remove sausages from tin foil wrapper and drop into simmering broth. Simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes until firm but still springy. (Note: Traditional meat fennel sausages are removed from the casings and cooked from raw, so their texture is softer and moister than, say, andouille or chorizo, which are dried. While I bake my other vegan sausages from start to finish, I simmer these to keep them from becoming too firm and tough.)
  7. Serve immediately (ideally in recipe below), or wrap in foil or saran wrap and freeze until ready to use.

orechiettePasta with Broccoli Rabe and Homemade Vegan Italian Fennel and Garlic Sausage

(serves 4)

  • at least 1lb broccoli rabe (regular broccoli or even green beans can be used in a pinch, but the flavor will of course be completely different)
  • 1 lb orecchiette or small shell-shaped pasta
  • enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of your pan, plus more to finish (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Italian sausage from recipe above, coarsely chopped (If you don’t have time to make the recipe from scratch, add a teaspoon of ground fennel to chopped store-bought sausage before browning)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt to taste
  • nutritional yeast to taste
  1. Bring a large pot full of well-salted water to a boil on the stove top.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add broccoli rabe and cook for 2 minutes, until soft but still bright green. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse with cold water until cool enough to handle. Squeeze out excess moisture with hands, chop into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
  3. Bring water back to a boil, and add pasta. Cook until al dente and drain, reserving a ladle’s worth of pasta water.
  4. While pasta is cooking, heat a generous pour of olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  5. Add chopped sausage and cook for a couple of minutes until beginning to brown. Stir and add chopped garlic. Watch closely to prevent garlic from burning, lowering heat and stirring frequently if needed.
  6. Once sausage is browned on all sides, stir in broccoli rabe and cook until heated through.
  7. Add a splash of pasta water to deglaze pan and scape up any cooked-on bits of sausage. Add cooked pasta to pan and stir well to combine. Cook over low heat until the pasta is hot, slightly softened, and excess liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Before serving, drizzle pasta with additional olive oil and season with salt and/or nutritional yeast to taste.
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4 thoughts on “Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Homemade Vegan Italian Fennel and Garlic Sausage

  1. Oh, this looks so good but I can’t have gluten. I may try this recipe with some sort of homemade ‘meat’ mixture. (and us some gluten free noodles – I’ve never seen gf orecchiette). I love broccoli raabe. We eat lots of Italian food on our house.

    • A belated thanks for your comment, Heather! If you come up with a good gluten free hack for the recipe, let me know and I’ll link to it. And I’m curious– what goes into your “meat” mixture? I’m always looking for new ideas!

  2. Pingback: 7 Homemade Vegan Sausage Recipes - Vegan Food Lover

  3. I ran across this recipe featured in 7 Homemade Vegan Sausage Recipes on VeganFoodLover.com. Can’t wait to pick up some gluten flour and try it!

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