Sarah Grueneberg

Sarah Grueneberg

Top Chef, James Beard Winner, Chef, Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, Chicago

Orecchiette with Italian Sausage & Peppers

Cook along with this Top Chef alum and James Beard Award winner Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio in Chicago.  Sarah walks you through one of her favorite pasta dishes, with a wink to Chicago. 

If you’re cooking along with us at home, find the ingredient and preparation list below or listen and enjoy for your next meal inspiration. 

COOK’S NOTE: Have water boiling when you start cooking.

Makes 4 servings


  • 1/3 cup kosher salt, for pasta water, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 lb Orecchiette pasta, or rigatoni, penne or spaghetti
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk mild (or spicy) Italian sausage (or buy links and remove from casing)
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, sliced or chopped, or another good quality green olive
  • 1/2 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers, sliced plus 2 Tablespoons of the liquid
  • 1 (14 oz.) can Italian cherry tomatoes, such as Mutti (or regular crushed tomatoes with some fresh cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flake
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for passing at the table
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to garnish

  • Large pot to boil pasta, ideally 7-8- quart size
  • Colander or big slotted spider or spoon
  • Large/wide skillet, about 12” to 14”
  • Tongs
  • Plate or bowl to remove sausage
  • Small dish to remove excess hot oil
  • Ladle or liquid measuring cup to transfer pasta water


Boil a large pot of water with the salt. Add the orecchiette and cook for two minutes less than the pasta package calls for, then drain (without discarding the pasta water).

While the pasta is cooking, place a large skillet over high heat and add extra virgin olive oil. Add Italian sausage to the pan in large, bite-sized pieces and turn heat down to medium/medium high. Let sausage brown on each side while letting the fat render. If you want smaller pieces, you can break up with a wooden spoon. Once the sausage is fully browned, turn heat to low and transfer the sausage to a small plate or bowl. Drain off most of the rendered fat, leaving just a thin layer in the pan, about 1 tablespoon.

Return pan to the stove and turn heat to medium high. Add the red onion, season with salt and stir. Add in the olives, pepperoncini and liquid and stir. Cook for one minute and add canned cherry tomatoes. Stir and stir and stir, letting the liquid reduce slightly. Add a pinch of chili flakes and stir.

When the pasta is cooked, add to the sauce skillet along with the cooked sausage and 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. The orecchiette should still be firm in the center. Begin marrying the pasta and sauce together. With the heat on low, gently stir continuously, adding more water if necessary, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is thick.

Add the basil, lemon zest and juice and stir to wilt the basil. Add in the Pecorino cheese and stir. Finish with a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil.

When the pasta is cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and serve immediately.

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