Farro is a whole grain which can be boiled and tossed with a variety of vegetables and sauces. In its traditional form, it’s a chunky nutty pilaf. But there are some artisanal pasta makers in Italy making some very high-quality pastas with 100% farro. They are found in gourmet markets (I buy them at my local market, Citarella) and are expensive–but worth trying for a change of pace from whole wheat pasta.
Theses pastas all have the dense, nutty quality that whole wheat pastas have, and in fact, you could substitute whole wheat pasta for the farro pasta in this recipe. The difference is that the farro pasta has a sweetness and delicacy that whole wheat pasta does not. I like them both equally but since I happen to have farro pasta in the house, that’s what I’ve chosen to use for this recipe.
Cauliflower is a natural complement to whole grains because of its own earthiness and nuttiness.
Luganega sausage is a sweet Italian sausage made from pork, fennel and other spices. It’s often available in the supermarket and has a nice mild flavor (almost like a breakfast sausage but without the sage). Regular Italian sausage (hot or sweet) may be substituted in this recipe.
The reason I sought out Luganega sausage was that my neighbor Beppi uses it as a component in some of his dishes (including his stuffing). It has a subtle refined flavor that doesn’t overpower other ingredients, and as such, is perfect for the delicate marriage of cauliflower and whole grain pasta.
Mint happens to pair well with cauliflower. Here, it is especially good, because in this dish, there are three very earthy flavors (whole grain pasta, cauliflower, and pork sausage). A bright note is needed to give the dish a little freshness–you could use a sprinkle of parsley instead, but there is no substitute for mint. A dusting of grated pecorino and maybe some chili flakes at the end are optional but highly recommended!
Farro Pasta with Cauliflower, Luganega and Mint
1 lb Luganega sausage, boiled and cut into 1″ pieces
1 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small onion, cut in quarters, then sliced
6 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 lb farro or whole wheat penne
Place sausage in boiling water and simmer, uncovered for about 12 minutes. drain and let cool a bit.
In a broad skillet, saute cauliflower in olive oil on high heat, covered, for about five minutes (keep opening and stirring and turning every couple of minutes). Add onion and re-cover for about ten minutes Keep checking and turning or shaking, often. When onion begins to color, add sausage pieces. Add broth and continue cooking uncovered to evaporate broth. Taste mixture and add salt and pepper and turn heat to very low. At this point, boil pasta.
When pasta is done (it seems to take much longer to cook than the 12 minutes recommended on the box) toss the pasta along with some of its cooking liquid (maybe a 1/4 cup) into the cauliflower mixture, then toss in mint leaves. Saute for a minute, then serve with abundant grated pecorino and red pepper flakes.