Andy Baraghani’s Big Shells with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Pistachios

Who says you have to stuff big shell pasta? You don't.
Who says you have to stuff big shell pasta? You don’t.

Admittedly, I am one of those people who harbors guilt easily.

So, when I tell you that since pre-Covid, I’m often cringed when opening my pantry, you will understand why.

It’s because a bag of conchiglie has long stared back at me, almost in disbelief.

As crazy as it sounds, I could almost picture this bag of jumbo shell pasta mockingly wondering, “OK, been here a while. A long while. What’s up with that?”

And I would sheepishly almost answer back, “Ya got me, ya got me. I’ve just been too lazy to go to the trouble of boiling you, stuffing you with something, and then baking you in the oven. So there.”

But along came Andy Baraghani to vanquish my guilt.

If the noted food writer, recipe developer, and former Bon Appetit magazine food editor who has cooked at Chez Panisse says its perfectly fine not to go to the trouble of stuffing crazy-big shells, but to treat them like any other pasta, that’s exactly the permission I was needing.

I grabbed that forlorn bag and made his “Big Shells with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Pistachios.”

The recipe is from his new cookbook, “The Cook You Want to Be” (Lorena Jones Books), of which I received a review copy.

As he describes himself in the book’s intro, “I crave simple, delicious cooking rather than dishes that are overly complicated.”

It’s exactly what most home cooks are after, too. And they’ll get it with this book in recipes such as “Coconut Creamed Corn,” “Butter-Slathered Whole Fish with Jammy Fennel,” “Miso and Chile-Rubbed Grilled Short Ribs,” and “Faloodeh with Cherries on Top” (a classic dessert of cherries, rose water and vermicelli noodles from his Persian heritage).

The bag of conchiglie that had been practically mocking me.
The bag of conchiglie that had been practically mocking me.

The big shell pasta is perfect in this recipe to capture and cradle little lamb meatballs, broccoli rabe, and crunchy pistachios, so you that get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Use a spicy lamb or hot Italian pork sausage for this dish. I used merguez, uncooked lamb sausage spiced with cumin and harissa for a brash boost of flavor. Remove the casings, and form the sausage into small balls to fry up in a pan, browning them nicely before eventually smashing them into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. Broccoli rabe then gets sauteed in the residual lamb fat with garlic.

Boil the jumbo shells, save some of the cooking water, then drain. The cooking water combines with a couple pats of butter to create a simple emulsified sauce that glazes every shell. Toss with the lamb sausage, broccoli rabe, lemon juice and zest, and Parmesan. Sprinkle over the pistachios to finish.

Not surprisingly, the substantial shells make for a hefty, hearty pasta dish. There’s a range of textures from the coarseness of the sausage and the suppleness of the pasta to the crunch of the pistachios. It’s rich tasting from the fat of the lamb, cheese, and butter with the pleasant bitterness and minerality of the broccoli rabe balancing that out nicely.

Without a doubt, guilt has never tasted so good.

A pasta that was worth the wait.
A pasta that was worth the wait.

Big Shells with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Pistachios

(Serves 6)

Kosher salt

1 bunch broccoli rabe

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound spicy lamb or hot Italian pork sausage, casings removed

1 pound jumbo shells or paccheri

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 raw pistachios, coarsely chopped

Finely grated Parmesan for serving

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then throw in about 1/4 cup salt.

Trim the thick stems from the broccoli rabe and reserve for another use (a stir-fry). We want the leafy greens and tender stems only, not the intense crunch from the thicker parts. Run your chef’s knife through the greens and stems two or three times to give them a very coarse chop. Set aside.

In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Using your hands, grab small clumps of the sausage (you’re going for rustic meatballs, about the size of a golf ball) and add to the pot. Cook, casually turning each piece as it becomes crusty, until deeply golden brown all over, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate, leaving behind all that good lamb fat. Remove the pot from the heat (we’ll come back to that later). If it looks like the sausage has given off a lot of fat, tip some of the fat into a bowl, so you’re left with 2 tablespoons in the pot. Save the rest for another use (like fried eggs).

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into boiling water and give it a couple of stirs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just shy of al dente, about 1 minute less than the package suggests (it’ll finish cooking in the sauce). Scoop out 1 1/2 cups pasta water and then drain the pasta.

Return the pot with the lamb fat to the stove top over medium-low heat and add the garlic. Cook, scraping any browned bits stuck to the pot and stirring, so the garlic cooks evenly, until the garlic has softened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring, until the greens have wilted and are bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage to the pot along with any juices that have collected on the plate. Using a wooden spoon, smush the sausage to break into smaller, but still coarse, pieces.

Add the pasta and butter to the pot, along with 3/4 cup pasta water. Cook, tossing often and adding more pasta water a tablespoon or two at a time, if needed, to create the sauce, until the shells are coated in the sauce, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the lemon zest and lemon juice, and toss the pasta to coat.

Sprinkle the pasta with the pistachios and Parmesan. Set out the pot for people to serve themselves, or take control and assemble each bowl, making the perfect pasta-to-sausage ratio for yourself.

A Quick Way to Make Fresh Sausage: In case you can’t find a high-quality sausage, here is my ratio for making it at home: Combine 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 3/4 teaspoon crushed or ground fennel seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a bowl. Add 1 pound ground meat and 2 finely grated garlic cloves. Using your hands, mix it all together until everything is integrated.

From “The Cook You Want To Be” by Andy Baraghani

Another Recipe Using Paccheri: Pumpkin Carbonara with Paccheri

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  • Yup, this is the sort of cooking I do most of the time. Truth be told, it’s actually the sort of food I’m most interested in when I (pretty rarely these days) go to restaurants. I still like really complicated chef creations, but only rarely. Anyway, this looks great! Simple yet really, really good. My kind of dish — thanks.

  • Hi John: That’s so true! I think we all love going to restaurants to discover the creativity of chefs. But the things we crave time and again are definitely not fussy, just soulfully good.

  • And why have I never thought to season some ground meat and call it sausage, I am asking myself? For some reason I have always thought that the making of “sausage” required some sort of serious magic.. But, by the time you stuff it into a casing, and then take *off* the casing when you turn it into cooked crumbles, well…(duh!) Thanks (yet again) for yet another handy “I was today years old when…” cooking tip, Carolyn!

    Also, my kinda recipe for sure!

  • Hi Carroll: Right? That’s why I love this book — it is so very useful and illuminating. Yes, why buy “sausage,” only to remove the casings, when you can make your own out of ground meat and seasonings. It’s one of those “duh!” moments. 😉

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