If you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, you may be experiencing at least some of the side effects common to chemotherapy or radiation treatment, including weight loss, mouth sores or tenderness, or a lack of energy. These side effects can sometimes sap your desire to cook wholesome, nutritive meals, which can make these side effects worse. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for simple, one-pan recipes that are quick to prepare with just a few ingredients, easy to chew and eat, psychologically comforting and that provide an extra heaping helping of the calories your body needs to speed recovery and minimize side effects.
This baked pasta dish, featuring a full pound of ground Italian sausage and an entire bunch of vitamin-rich broccoli rabe comes together in just a few minutes, and doesn’t leave a pile of dirty pots and pans to clean up. The earthy, pleasantly bitter flavor of the broccoli rabe (sometimes called “rapini,” depending on where you are geographically) provides a delicious contrast to the richness of the fontina and cheddar cheese, and pairs perfectly with the sage and fennel notes in the sausage.
What’s more, broccoli rabe may be helpful as a cancer-fighting powerhouse. As a member of the brassica family of vegetables, broccoli rabe is high in glucosinolates, which may be effective in combating several types of cancer, including stomach, lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health
. Cancer-fighting potential aside, broccoli rabe packs tons of vitamins into its leafy stalks, including 396 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A per servings, 270 percent of vitamin C and an impressive 1,398 percent of antioxidant-rich vitamin K. The high-fiber stalks and leaves can also aid in digestion, easing the symptoms of constipation.
For this recipe, start with an entire washed bunch of broccoli rabe, available at most supermarkets. Trim the bottom 3 to 4 inches of woody stalks and discard, and then chop the remaining stalks and leaves in half. There’s no need to chop further; like spinach, broccoli rabe wilts considerably during cooking. You can use either sweet or hot Italian sausage for this recipe, depending on your preference, but patients suffering from mouth sores or tenderness should avoid spicy foods that may aggravate the mouth.
Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
- 1 bunch fresh broccoli rabe, washed and trimmed
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- 1 pound sweet or hot ground Italian sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon ground sage
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 12 ounces Fontina or sharp cheddar cheese, or combination, grated
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a large pot with water and add a teaspoon of salt. Boil pasta according to package directions, minus two minutes for al dente pasta. During the last two minutes of cooking, add broccoli rabe to cooking liquid, then drain pasta and broccoli rabe together in a large colander, and return to the drained cooking pot. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat, combine olive oil and ground sausage, breaking big pieces apart with a wooden spoon. Sautee until sausage begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Stir well, add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes and ground sage, and cook 3 minutes more, or until sausage is completely browned and garlic is toasted and golden brown.
- Stir in heavy cream, and let bubble until slightly thickened. Reduce heat, and add about 2/3 of the cheese, stirring until cheese is incorporated and mixture thickens.
- Transfer sausage mixture to the pot with the pasta and the broccoli rabe, and stir well to combine and coat pasta evenly. Transfer finished pasta mixture back to the skillet, cover with foil and bake until mixture is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, top pasta with the remaining cheese, and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes more. Allow finished pasta to set for a few minutes before serving.