Right down the street from us at 1900 Broadway, Daniel Boulud has carved a little fiefdom for himself. It consists of two restaurants—Bar Boulud, which leans heavily on charcuterie, and Boulud Sud, Chef Boulud’s salute to Mediterranean Cuisine. And then there’s Epicerie Boulud right on the corner between the two. To me, Epicerie brings back memories of my time in Rome where stand-up bars are the rule rather than the exception. So every time I stop by for one of their perfect Banh Mis, I feel as if I’ve gone back to Rome and lost about thirty years in the process. At Epicerie Boulud, the gleaming marble counters are at the right height for standing with a glass of wine and whatever you fancy from the menu from breakfast til 11:00 pm. Oysters on the half shell, lobster rolls, and excellent selection of salads, sandwiches, charcuterie including the most amazing sausages which are served encased in French rolls. Among these are the spicy North African sausages, Merguez. These red beauties are made with lamb and beef, and heavily spiced with North Africa’s signature harissa, a chili based sauce, as well as other spices such as sumac, fennel, and garlic. One day this week, I decided that one lone Merguez sausage was not enough so I bought three of them and brought them home.
I’ve written about my fondness for Orecchiette before and this little pasta, which literally translates to “little ears”, made a perfect partner for my dish. Orrechiette’s background is almost as interesting as what you can make with them. They are thought to have been first invented in Provence, in France, where this type of pasta has been made since the Middle Ages. In Italy, however, they are the pasta of Puglia, which is about as far from the French border as you can get in Italy. As it turns out, the Anjou dynasty of France ruled Puglia in the 1200s hence the arrival of the earliest Orecchiette.
Regardless of their background what’s great about Orecchiette is that they catch the sauce in their tiny bowls so you get a mouthful of flavor rather than just a mouthful of pasta. In this case, the spicy lamb, juicy sweet grape tomatoes, the subtle hint of onion and the earthy goodness of the mushrooms all meld together inside and out of the Orecchiette. As to the flavors I used to accompany Chef Boulud’s Merguez, I could have gone in a hundred directions. Peas, broccolini, broccoli rabe would all have been great companions. But the real centerpiece of the dish is the sausage. If you can’t find Merguez, fresh Chorizo sausages would certainly work. And for all those Chicken sausage fans, I saw a Chicken Chorizo sausage at Whole Foods. And if even that is not an option, you can go with Hot Italian sausage and you’ll still end up with a great meal in all of one half hour. Here is the recipe: It’s for four people but I find that we always like more sauce so I made this quantity for two.
Recipe for Orecchiette with Spicy Merguez Sausage
½ cup dried Orrechiette per person
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
8 ounces fresh Merguez or other spicy sausage, casings removed
2 spring onions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced.
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, plus more for serving.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs.
· Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the spring onions and cook until softened, about 3 more minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to brown, about 3 minutes.
· Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until they soften slightly, about 3 more minutes.
· Add the broth to the skillet and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in the pasta and cheese, adding more broth to loosen, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls, drizzle with olive oil and top with more cheese and spring onions. (I ran out of Spring Onions which is why you don’t see them in the photo at top.) Serve with a green salad.