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

servings: 4


  • 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


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Meanwhile, add the orecchiette to the pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute less than the package’s instructions.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.