This creamy orecchiette with chicken sausage & spring vegetables highlights the very best of what spring has to offer in one pasta dish. Loaded with so much good seasonal produce – leeks, fennel, ramps, green peas, spinach, garlic, and herbs. The sauce is infused with all of that fresh flavor plus white wine, lemon, butter, and pecorino cheese. It’s creamy and saucy, yet bright and zesty!
creamy orecchiette – the inspiration
This creamy orecchiette pasta dish strikes the perfect balance – hearty and cozy meets seasonal and fresh. It’s reminiscent of this caramelized fennel paccheri with sausage & pistachios recipe from two springs ago…
The main difference? This recipe is packed to the brim with springtime vegetables. It was inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market. My kitchen was overflowing with abundance and nothing sounded better than combining everything into a beautiful pasta dish.
You’ll start by browning off some Italian chicken sausage. You could absolutely use pork sausage, but I liked how the lighter-flavored chicken didn’t overpower all of the vegetables.
Once browned, you’ll remove the sausage from the pot and start layering in your vegetables and other ingredients to build the sauce. It all gets done in one pot, but it’s key to follow the different cooking process steps instead of dumping everything into the pot at once.
Each step (such as cooking the leeks and fennel first and adding them back into the sauce later) allows each vegetable to get good caramelization and prevents them from overcooking.
This creamy orecchiette calls for ramps which are only in season for a short period of time (typically late-April to early-June). If you want to make this recipe but cannot find ramps, then you can use spring onions or shallots (more details in the notes section of the recipe).
You’ll start cooking your pasta about halfway through making the sauce and combine everything together at the end. White wine and lemon add a bright, zesty flavor. Heavy cream creates the sauce’s silky-smooth consistency. Pecorino is there for a salty punch and the fresh herbs tie everything together in the most beautiful way.
Serve this with a really simple butter lettuce salad and you’ve got the most perfect springtime dinner!Print
Creamy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage & Spring Vegetables
orecchiette pasta tossed in a creamy lemon pecorino sauce with chicken sausage, lots of spring vegetables, and fresh herbs
- olive oil
- 1 lb mild italian chicken sausage
- kosher salt
- 2 leeks, thinly sliced (light green/white bottoms only)
- 1 large fennel bulb, cored + thinly sliced
- ¾ lb orecchiette
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 bunch ramps, thinly sliced (bulbs and leaves separated)*
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ lb green peas (fresh or frozen)
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for topping
- 4 oz fresh spinach
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Heat a 5 ½ to 7-quart pot (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the chicken sausage. Use a wooden spoon to break it apart into smaller pieces. Season with a pinch of salt. Continue to cook the sausage until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the sausage to a plate and add another drizzle of olive oil to the pot. Add the leeks and fennel, plus a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized, stirring often.
- Meanwhile, add the orecchiette to the pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute less than the package’s instructions.
- Transfer the leeks and fennel to the plate of sausage. Lower the heat of the pot to medium and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Let it melt. Add the ramp bulbs and garlic. Stir well and cook for a minute or so. Pour in the white wine (scrape the bottom of the pot to release all of the brown bits). Simmer for 2 minutes.
- Retrieve 1 cup of starchy pasta water from the pasta pot and add it to the sauce, along with the heavy cream and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Stir in the sliced ramp leaves, peas, sausage, leeks, and fennel. Bring the liquid to a simmer again. Reduce the heat, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.
- Drain the pasta and add it right to the sauce. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, grated pecorino, spinach, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Continue to stir well for a minute or so as everything combines.
- Plate the pasta. Garnish with the chives, pecorino, freshly cracked black pepper, and fennel fronds (optional*).
Ramps are only in season for a short period of time in the spring (typically late-April to early-June). If you want to make this but cannot find ramps, you can use sliced spring onions or shallots. In step 5, cook them in the butter for 2-3 minutes before adding the garlic (omit the ramp leaves in step 6).
To slice the ramp leaves, stack the leaves on top of each other and then roll them into a “cigar” lengthwise. Thinly slice across the leaves to create strands (or chiffonade).
The fennel fronds are the green, frilly leaves attached to the tops of the fennel bulb. While not necessary, I love using them as a garnish. Just like an herb, they add a final pop of fresh flavor to the dish.