The maple syrup in this recipe is subtle enough so that you won't feel like you're eating breakfast, but it's just the right amount of sweetness to complement the creamy sauce and hot pepper flakes.
*Note: I halve my cherry tomatoes at the very beginning, season them with salt and pepper, and keep them in a bowl in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a large nonstick skillet, cook the pork sausage, breaking up with a spoon as you go, until nicely browned. Add the maple syrup to the sausage and sauté for 2 minutes longer, stirring and incorporating the syrup into the sausage.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Cook the broccoli rabe until tender, about 4-5 minutes. When the broccoli rabe is cooked through, drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and shock in the ice water bath.
When your sausage is cooked all the way through, remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Add the olive oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sauté until the onion is soft and transluscent, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the broccoli rabe water and cook according to the package directions. Before draining the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and set aside.
Remove the broccoli rabe from the ice bath, drain well, and roughly chop. Add the broccoli rabe to the pan with the onion and garlic and stir well. Add the chicken stock, season with a little more salt and pepper, and bring the pan to a simmer. Let the chicken stock reduce in the pan, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta water to the pan with the vegetables and chicken stock and simmer. To finish, drain the pasta into a serving bowl. Add the vegetables and pasta water, the heavy cream, and cheese. Toss well to incorporate. Add the cherry tomatoes last, if using.