This Whole Wheat Penne with Sausage and Broccoli dish is everything you’re craving. It’s spicy, coated in a luscious lightened-up Parmesan sauce and balanced with the addition of the broccoli.
This dish is based on a family favorite from a local Italian restaurant near my parent’s house. Every time we would go, my grandma and my dad would order this dish and we’d have leftovers in the fridge for days after that everyone would fight over! Their version undoubtedly included a near-mountain of Parmesan cheese and a sizeable knob of butter.
Over the years, both my mom and I have tried to re-create the Penne with Sausage and Broccoli dish in a slightly healthier way, but it never quite had the same oomph.
Then I came across the concept of pasta water as a thickener.
Do you know about the pure magic of pasta water? As pasta cooks, a lot of its starchiness is released into the boiling water. Which means that the post-cooking pasta water is a great thickener. Starchy water is really excellent at “glueing” the pasta to the sauce, without any extra fat (a great trick for helping tomato sauce stick to pasta without having to add any butter or oil). With this easy addition (I mean, you already have it!), you can make a seriously luscious, thick sauce without a ton of cheese, butter or oil—pure magic!
So in the end, this recipe depends heavily on the addition of some pasta water at the end to create a light Parmesan sauce, so don’t toss that pasta water until we’re totally done!
I promise you’ll add this Whole Wheat Penne with Sausage and Broccoli into your pasta night rotation—and if you don’t have a pasta night rotation, you should seriously consider it… it makes everything happier.
Whole Wheat Penne with Sausage and Broccoli
Makes 4 servings
3/4 lb whole wheat penne pasta
1 large head of broccoli
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 cup pasta water (see directions)
1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high, remove the sausage from its casing (if in casing), then crumble it into the hot pan. Let cook until thoroughly browned. Turn the heat down and let rest while the pasta cooks.
2. In a large sauce pan, boil water. Add in the pasta and let cook for 8 minutes. While pasta is cooking, prep the broccoli by cutting into florets and 1-2 inch pieces.
3. Once pasta has cooked for 8 minutes, drop the broccoli in the boiling water and let cook for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. It’s all done when the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is bright green! But don’t drain it just yet!
4. Put the large saute pan with the cooked sausage back over medium heat. Add in the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes and let cook 2 minutes. Here is where you’ll add in the pasta and broccoli. Either carefully spoon the noodles and broccoli into the large saute pan with a slotted spoon or save 1-2 cups of the pasta water and then drain the pot and add the pasta to the pan.
5. Stir together and add in 1 cup of starchy pasta water (saved from cooking in previous step) to the saute pan. Toss in the Parmesan, salt and pepper and kick the heat up to medium high and let cook for 5 minutes. It’s done when most of the liquid is gone and has been replaced with a luscious sauce.
6. Serve and top with more Parmesan and a cold glass of white wine!