Pasta dish gives hearty send-off to winter

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Spring, with its lighter, greener dishes and view toward bikini season, is just around the corner. So now is the perfect time to get in the last hearty tastes of winter. This Napoli pasta dish marries loose sausage meat cooked in red wine with chile, garlic and cavoli, Italian for the Brassica family of cabbages.

I opted for cauliflower, but instead of boiling it as instructed, I roasted it in a little olive oil. I paired it with imported torchietti, a bell-shaped noodle I found at Marshalls for $3. It was perfect for grabbing up little bits of sausage and caramelized vegetable.

Pasta With Cauliflower or Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Serves 6.

Adapted from “Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way” by Oretta Zanini de Vita and Maureen B. Fant.

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 cauliflower (about 3 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets, or broccoli or broccoli rabe

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

7 ounces finely ground unseasoned bulk sausage

1/2 cup dry, full-bodied red wine

1 pound orecchiette, fusilli or penne

Grated pecorino

Bring 5 quarts water to boil in an 8-quart pot over high. Add salt, vegetables, and boil until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve cooking water in the pot. (I used cauliflower, but roasted it with a little olive oil in a 450-degree F oven for 30 minutes instead.)

Put oil and garlic in a large, deep skillet. Saute for a few minutes, just until garlic is golden, then discard garlic. Crumble sausage into skillet. Brown evenly, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Raise heat and add wine. Let it bubble until smell of alcohol has disappeared, about 2 minutes. Stir often to keep meat from sticking. Add vegetables, pepper flakes.

Bring water back to boil; cook pasta until al dente.

Reheat vegetables, sausage over low. When pasta is half done, add a little cooking water to the sauce. When pasta is al dente, transfer it to skillet. Mix well over low for half a minute.

Mix in cheese and serve.