Homemade Pasta – Orecchiette

Little ears – fun and easy to make

Orecchiette is my favorite short pasta. It means “little ears” and is pretty typical of southern Italy. I like it best because it holds the sauce in its little pocket, and when it is made fresh, the texture is absolutely delicious.

Count on prepping this two hours ahead. You will need 1/2 hour to rest the dough once assembled, a 1/2 hour to shape, and an hour to let the pasta dry. As a result, this is something I would only make on familia Sunday – maybe when I have extra hands to help or a little extra time. We are just too busy during the week.

Homemade pasta is the more flavorful than dried, and while you can certainly use all-purpose flour (I often do), a good quality fine-grade semolina flour makes a world of difference in texture and bite. Also, when you do little hand-rolled or knife shapes, I think it is a bit of fun. So if you have the time and resources, give it a try. This is a great-tasting semolina flour from Naples from Amazon and is the one I used for the recipe. Rimacinata refers to it being ground finely – this is idea for pasta and pizza dough. Pro-tip – when buying bags of flour of the internet, I put it in the freezer for 24 hours and then store in an air-tight container.

2 bags is around $10

Serving size – 5-6 adults

You will need:

  • 3 to 3 1/3 cups of semolina flour
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
  • 2/3 tsp fine salt


  1. Place flour on a large pastry or cutting board and make a well in the center with your hand. Add salt to the center.
  2. Add water a little at a time, working the dough with your hand and making sure it is incorporated before adding more. You can use a tablespoon or your hand, whichever is easier for you.
  3. Knead the dough for about 6-7 minutes, until it is elastic and put together. You don’t want to overwork it and get it sticky.
  4. Form a dough ball and let it rest under a kitchen towel for 30 minutes.
  5. When rested, use a knife to cut off a portion of the dough. Roll into a snake shape until it is about one inch thick.
  6. Cut off slices about 1 cm wide.
  7. Use a knife with a round tip (like a typical dinner knife). Roll the slice towards you, pressing down.
  8. Then, take the pasta and shape it around your index finger on the opposite side. Repeat.
  9. Be sure not to place them sticking together, but giving a little room. Let the pasta dry for an hour before serving.
  10. *You may need to dust the board a bit with additional semolina flour.
Kneading is fast and easy, maybe 6 minutes, tops.
Conscripting your children into helping you is always a good idea.
Italian · Recipes

Orecchiette and Sausage

This is a classic Italian winter dish. I really like to make it when it is cold outside, because the pasta is creamy and filling.  I also like to use spicy sausage instead of mild, or blend in a proportion of both. Broccoli rabe is the classic vegetable used in Italy, but regular broccoli or an alternate like kale or peas is also fine.  I’ve also seen a variation with cooked tomatoes that was especially delicious. In truth, rather than being a purist, I embrace my grandmother’s philosophy of cleaning out the vegetable drawer with what is on hand. There is a lot of variety to the dish, but what is below is closest to the classic version. This will feed around 5 to 6 people. Feel free to ramp up the butter and/or cheese if you want something more decadent.

Many non-Italians are not used to incorporating pasta water, but I highly recommend it, as it helps add creaminess to the overall dish. Also, make sure to salt your pasta water:) Fresh grated cheese really makes a huge difference. There are debates about which cheese is canon, but I personally prefer a blend of Asiago & Parmesan.

You will need:

  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings (or spicy, if you prefer)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 reserve pasta water
  • broccoli florets or kale
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Asiago, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan ( I personally use a blend of Asiago & Parmesan)

Step one:

Make sure to salt your water for the pasta with kosher salt. If you cannot find orecchiette, substitute small shells. Cook the pasta al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water to set aside.

Step two:

Once you have the pasta started, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the sausage. Cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until the sausage starts to brown, 5-6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Season the meat with salt & red pepper flakes. Remove the meat from pan. Add the reserve pasta water, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, broccoli, chicken broth. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the butter until melted and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce. Add the sausage back in.

Step three:

Add the cooked and drained pasta and toss well.

Fresh grated cheese really makes a difference here. It is really worth the extra step and effort. However, if you have to substitute it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t find Asiago or Romano, it’s fine to substitute Parmigiano Reggiano.