Sundried Tomato, Mushroom, and Chicken Sausage Pesto Orecchiette with Greek Baby Zucchini

If ever I have a “cause” in life, something I’m going to leap onto a soap box for, it’s going to be one of two things: defense of the faith and Jesus Christ and the fact that bread is not the enemy. I feel like I have more food-related conversations that are devoted to my earnest attempts to get people to eat bread and pasta and rice without their stress levels going up because they’re doing something wrong. Sure, quinoa is more fashionable, but it’s also quinoa, which personally speaking is kind of gross. Now of course, some people have legitimate allergies to gluten that prohibit them from eating these things. Sometimes, I wonder though, if society as a whole has internalized the rise of gluten allergies and translated it into the idea that bread is somehow something that we’d better avoid altogether.

But, as is the case with anything beautiful and lovely, moderation is the key to true pleasure and ultimately, health. The quality of the product in question is also a key consideration before we make hasty judgments. I have no doubt that store-bought bread often makes people sick or at least irritates them in some way because I’m the first to admit that chemicals have no place in bread. For thousands of years, bread has been flour, salt, yeast/leaven, and water. No chemicals there. The same goes for pasta. Pasta is 100% durum semolina and water. Anything else is a science experiment meant to preserve food longer than it should naturally remain “fresh,” but it’s not bread or pasta.

All of this is not even to mention the inherently warm phenomenon of eating truly good bread. Sure, there’s the actual warmth of a fresh-out-of-the-oven loaf, but there’s also the human experience of eating bread that transcends our own epoch and extends back as long as human beings have been around. It’s human to eat bread. It’s biblical to eat bread. It’s poetry to make and eat bread. Heck, that’s why the second half of this blog’s name is devoted to this experience.

I could go on, but one diatribe per day is probably enough. All of this is a fanatical lead-in to the fact that I used real pasta in today’s dinner. I used an orecchiette pasta which is so fun to make because of its texture. It’s pasta cut into concave circles that resemble “little ears,” which is also incidentally how they get their name. This pasta is particularly great if you’re making pasta paired with a heavier sauce because the concave shape retains the sauce really well, so you won’t end up with pasta that only has the slightest whisper of sauce on it while the really good stuff is still sitting on your plate when you’re done.

I love to incorporate vegetables into my dishes and not just use them as sides, so this meal is actually more vegetable and meat than carbohydrate. Remember that in case you have someone over for dinner, and they try to tell you they’re watching what they eat! Watch this one go right down the gullet.

Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • Baby zucchini, about 20, sliced into ¼ in circles
  • 2 cups crimini mushrooms, cored and sliced about ¼ inch thin
  • ⅓ cup sundried tomatoes
  • 8 oz. orecchiette pasta
  • Tomato and spinach chicken sausage, 2 links
  • ½ cup pesto
  • Red Stick Spice Salt Free Greek Seasoning (basil, oregano, onion, garlic, marjarom)
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ TB butter
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Whole milk mozzarella to garnish

RECIPE CARD:

  1. In a medium cast iron pan, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium-low. Also put water in a medium saucepan with kosher salt and olive oil and turn on medium-high heat.
  2. Place 2 chicken sausage links in cast iron pan with grease guard on top. Allow to cook through, turning occasionally as you work on the rest of the meal.
  3. While sausage is browning and water is boiling, core mushrooms and slice about ¼ inch thin. Remove stems from baby zucchini and slice into circles about ¼ inch thin as well. Set aside.
  4. Once water is boiling, drop pasta into the saucepan and allow to cook until al dente, about 12-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the orecchiette. (Normally, I cook my pasta a little past al dente, but it will soften a little more once we combine everything and coat it in sauce over heat, so if you like your finished pasta al dente, stop boiling the pasta a little earlier.)
  5. Removed cooked sausage from cast iron, and set aside on a plate with paper towels.
  6. Without adding any more oil, place mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in cast iron pan to saute. Add about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to coax the mushrooms to release their water. Together with the sausage fat, this liquid will help to create saucy vegetables for the pasta.
  7. In a separate medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the ½ tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the baby zucchini, sprinkle with about 3 teaspoons of the salt-free greek seasoning (or the seasoning of your choice), and stir well. Cook until tender, empty into glass or metal bowl, and set aside.
  8. Once pasta is al dente, place a colander in the saucepan and pour out some of the pasta water. Retain some of this pasta water in the saucepan with the pasta, about ⅓ cup.
  9. Slice sausage links into ½ inch circles.
  10. Add the pesto to the medium saucepan (where the zucchini had been cooking — trying to save dishes, y’all!). When mushrooms and sundried tomatoes are soft, empty them along with the pasta, pasta water, and sausage into the pan, and stir until everything is coated well. With heat on low, stir occasionally until sauce has thickened.
  11. Garnish with whole milk mozzarella, pair with zucchini, and serve immediately.

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