Danny Grant Gave Us His Recipe for a Glorious, Easy-to-Make Pasta
Dazzle them with sausage and kale orecchiette in a tomato jus
If there’s anyone who knows how to make an ordinary plate of pasta into something otherworldly, it’s chef Danny Grant. After becoming the youngest chef ever to earn two Michelin stars — for his breakout at Chicago’s Ria in both 2011 and 2012 — he also picked up the distinction of Food & Wine’s best new chef in 2012. Grant spent the next decade building a restaurant empire that is rapidly spreading across the country: In 2015, he founded the What If Syndicate restaurant group, and slowly but surely he’s created what amounts to a high-end eatery empire, beginning in Chicago but quickly branching out into Arizona, Texas, California, and coming very soon, Florida.
Along with other concepts, Grant has ushered in multiple locations of his incredibly popular steakhouse spot, Maple & Ash, as well as the Italian-focused Etta, which just opened its first West Coast location in Culver City. Grant’s hearth-style cooking is rooted in Italian tradition, but also informed by his formal training in French cuisine. So how does that relate to pasta? It’s simple — the devil is in the details. To perfect one of the best dishes on his new menu at Etta, a hearty orecchiette pasta with crispy sausage, tomato jus, Tuscan kale, and an unexpectedly fragrant fennel pollen, the real secret is … pasta water. Oh, and keeping the pasta al dente so it can cook to perfection once it’s in *with* the pasta sauce itself.
“Make sure that when you are cooking the pasta you pull it out when it’s al dente and then cook it with the pan sauce,” Grant said. “This technique will give the pasta a very beautiful glaze. And whether you make the pasta yourself, or you purchase it dried, it’s so important to save some of the pasta water to add to the sauce. The starchy water thickens the sauce and adds depth to your dish.” Obviously, every pasta dish at Etta features homemade noodles that are airy and decadent at the same time. The recipe includes instructions for making your own orecchiette, though that isn’t necessary — store-bought will do just as fine if you’re pressed for time or intimidated by the fresh pasta workload.
For Danny, this pasta shape goes well with the meaty, hearty sauce he’s concocted — and the fennel pollen becomes a hero ingredient by elevating the dish at the last minute. “During one of my first professional cooking jobs, I learned the meaning of the orecchiette,” he explained. “It means ‘little ears,’ and for some reason I keep coming back to it again and again. It’s a fun, playful shape that goes well with a hearty sauce. The addition of a really fragrant fennel pollen takes this dish from simple to spectacular.”
Etta, which is located at the Ivy Station development in Culver, is full of dishes like that: a familiar or almost ordinary-seeming plate, elevated with startling finishing touches that bring Grant’s food to a whole new level of sublime. The chance to recreate one of his dishes at home is both a challenge and a lesson in how a little extra preparation or technique can go a long way. And the best way to enjoy this plate once all the elements are brought together? “I love a really good Nebbiolo with my pasta,” he recommended. “And I always take a shot of fernet to round out the meal.” Spoken like a true chef. Check out the recipe below.
Chef Danny Grant’s Orecchiette Pasta With Crispy Sausage and Tomato Jus
2 cups semola
½ cup + 2 tablespoons water
2 cups diced focaccia
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup olive oil
4 cups orecchiette shaped
4 cloves smashed garlic
2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste
8 oz Bianco tomatoes, pureed
2 cups Tuscan kale, blanched
10 oz Italian sausage
2 lemons (for squeezing)
4 tablespoons butter
8 oz pasta water
1 cup focaccia bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fennel pollen
Finishing olive oil, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For the orecchiette:
Combine the water and the semola in a mixing bowl. Mix until combined and then turn out onto a surface to knead. Knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and allow to hydrate for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into four equal portions and roll into tubes the size of a nickel. Using a dough cutter or a knife, cut the log into pieces approximately the size of a thumbnail (5 grams). Using a knife with a slightly serrated edge, apply even pressure to the piece of dough and stretch it on a wooden surface. Using a finger tip, gently open up the stretched pasta exposing the ridges from stretching. Place the shaped pasta on a tray lined with semola. Allow the pasta to dry for approximately 20-30 minutes then freeze.
For the focaccia breadcrumbs:
Combine the diced focaccia (or sourdough, or another Italian bread) with the olive oil in a mixing bowl. Coat the focaccia well with the olive oil and lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350-375 degrees until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on paper towels and gently pulverize for use.
For the pasta:
Fry the smashed garlic in the olive oil, when the garlic is just golden brown add the calabrian chili paste and remove from the pan (ideally a 4-5 qt heavy-bottomed pan). Render the sausage in the same pan until a little crispy, if it lets off a lot of fat pour some off and reserve in case you want it to finish the pasta. Deglaze with the pureed tomatoes and add the garlic and chili back to the pan as well as the blanched kale, this can just hang out until you’re ready to finish the pasta.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with kosher salt to cook the pasta. Once the water is boiling aggressively, drop the pasta in the water. This will cook for approximately 5 minutes, depending on how thin the pasta was stretched (can also sub for a dried pasta and follow the boiling instructions on the box/bag). While the pasta is boiling, reserve the 8 oz of pasta water needed to finish. Once the pasta is ready, strain and add it to the pot with the sauce, sausage, and kale. Turn the heat to medium high and add the butter and some of the reserved pasta water to adjust consistency. Stirring constantly, glaze the pasta until the noodle is stained red and the sauce is a nice consistency
Season with salt and pepper and squeeze of lemon.
Portion the pasta evenly into 4 large bowls, making sure to spread out the kale, sausage, and sauce evenly. Finish each plate with a handful of breadcrumbs, a pinch of fennel pollen, and a drizzle of a nice finishing olive oil.
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