Several years ago we went to dinner at Alan's cousin's house up in Lake Tahoe. His wife cooked us a great pasta dish with a sauce that included Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, and red pepper flakes. I was smitten. Over the years I've used that meal as an inspiration for other dishes, including the zuppa di toscana I regularly make in the winter.
Through the years we've started using zucchini noodles in place of traditional pasta in order to cut down on the carbs we consume. For some dishes this works well, and for others, it hasn't been great. In order to be more successful with our zucchini noodle making, I recently bought something called a veggetti, a spiral vegetable cutter. I cannot say enough good things about this thing! The noodles are long enough that you can twirl them around your fork, and they are thick enough that the texture really does mimic the toothsomeness of regular pasta. Obviously it's not an exact replacement, but it's pretty darn good if you're looking to get more vegetables into your diet while also reducing your carb intake.
Last night I had planned on making seared salmon with buerre blanc and a side salad (that recipe coming soon!), but it was pretty cool last night and that called for a bit of warm comfort food so I decided to put some frozen sausage and some floppy kale to good use and put together a take on the recipe I love so much.
5 small to medium zucchinis (they have to fit in the veggetti so they can't be too large)
1 pound of sweet italian sausage (in the past I've used chicken sausage and it works well too)
1 bunch dino (or lacinto) kale, de-stemmed and chopped into pieces
1 sweet vidalia onion
4 cloves of garlic (more or less depending on your preference)
1/2 cup of cream
1/2 cup of stock (I used vegetable because it's what I had open)
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your preference)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1/2 cup grated Italian cheese (I used bagged quattro formagio from Trader Joe's)
salt to taste
Brown sausage in olive oil
Chop the onion and garlic and add to the browned sausage, cook until translucent
Throw in half of the red pepper flakes and stir until well distributed
Throw in half of the kale and saute until soft
Add the other half of the kale and do the same (I do it in halves due to pan size)
Once kale has softened, add the cream and stir well
Add the stock to create a soupy sauce
Add the cornstarch slurry* to thicken
Add the remaining red pepper flakes
Add the cheese and stir until melted
Cook until desired consistency
*What is a slurry, you ask?
A slurry is a combination of starch (I use cornstarch mostly, and sometimes flour) and water that is mixed together to thicken a soup or sauce. If the cornstarch is added directly to a hot liquid, the dry starch forms clumps; however, when mixed with water, the slurry can be added directly, small amounts at a time, to your liquid. From there, the sauce should be simmered to ensure it is thickening properly. If the sauce is too thick, add more water (or stock). If not thick enough, repeat the slurry process.
The slurry and cheese mixture turns the sauce into an alfredo type of dish with much less fat than if you were cooking a full cheese and flour alfredo. It's not exactly the same, but it does a good job of coating the noodles so I like using that thickening method.
To cook the noodles, I usually saute them in olive oil, salt, and pepper. One thing to be cognizant of when using zucchini noodles is they release a lot of water so you have to be diligent about straining them before using them as your pasta. I thought I did a good job last night but midway through dinner, we both noticed that our "alfredo" sauce had turned soupy and was slightly green from the liquid that came from the zucchini. It wasn't a deal breaker flavor-wise, but it definitely changed the overall consistency and texture of the dish, and thus the eating experience.
And that, my friends, is a hearty, lovely, cold-weather meal that I definitely recommend you try at some point.