20-Minute Orecchiette Pasta Recipe
This 20-Minute Orecchiette Pasta Recipe is tossed with garlicky anchovy oil, tomatoes, spinach, and finished off with toasted breadcrumbs.
Easy Enough for Weeknights, Beautiful Enough for Sunday.
A quick and easy pasta that’s pleasing to the palate and the eye; that’s what you get with this orecchiette pasta recipe. This is one of those dishes that just sort of happens. It’s made with super simple ingredients and the process is a cinch. Make this once, and you’ll probably even start to add your own little spin on it. The inspiration for this came from an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations. He visits Puglia, a southern region forming the heel of Italy’s “boot”. Our home inspector told me about it as we discussed our love of food, and he told me about his adaptations. There really is no recipe. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. But I recorded what I did and am sharing it with you so that you, too, can throw this cozy dish together and share it with your loved ones.
What Is Orecchiette Pasta?
Orecchiette pasta is a Puglian pasta made from semolina, walter, and salt. That’s it. What makes this pasta shape special is how their cup-like shape and rougher surface holds onto sauces, unlike some of the other slippery noodles out there. The name comes from the idea that they resemble little ears—orecchie in Italian. You can find artisanal orecchiette pasta in some of the larger grocery stores, and there are even a few commercial brands making them now.
How to Pronounce Orecchiette
Orecchiette, which means “Little ears” in Italian, is pronounced oh-reck-ee-ET-tay.
We Call For Simple Ingredients in This One.
If you’ve cooked with anchovies before, then the fact that this recipe calls for the entire can won’t surprise you. Because you know how damn amazing they are. If you’re new to anchovies, don’t fret. These little fillets pack the most flavorful, salty, umami-rich punch a pasta dish could ask for. Do not be afraid of the anchovies. You could also double up on the tomatoes if you like a more tomato-y sauce. That’s what I love about this dish, you can truly make it your own without messing anything up. Here’s the full list of ingredients:
- Anchovy fillets, keep the oil from the can for extra flavor
- Olive oil
- Grape tomatoes
- Baby spinach
- White wine (optional)
- Toasted breadcrumbs
- Pasta water, from your boiled pasta
How to Make This Easy 20-Minute Orecchiette Pasta Recipe.
I’ll lay it all out by how I make it, and you can make some adaptations as you see fit. Like whether or not you want to add that splash of white wine or not. (I was literally just drinking wine while cooking and thought eh, why not, and splashed some in.) Here’s what you’ll do:
- Boil the water and start prepping your ingredients. This is a fast moving recipe, so you want everything chopped and ready to go. As soon as the water is boiling, add your pasta and get your timer going.
- Heat small pan over medium heat, add the breadcrumbs, and toast for about 2-3 minutes. Shake the pan every once in a while so they don’t burn.
- Heat a skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat.
- Once the skillet is hot, drain the oil from the anchovy tin into the skillet and then add another tablespoon of olive oil.
- Once the oil is hot and sparkling, transfer the minced anchovy into the skillet. Let the anchovies simmer, stirring occasionally, until they’ve melted down. They basically become so tender that they melt. This should take about 5.
- Stir in the garlic and simmer for another minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes and shallots, a bit more oil, and if you’re adding wine, you can add a splash at this point. About a tablespoon worth, give or take. Simmer until the tomatoes are soft and they burst—about 5-7 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked orecchiette to the skillet, add the spinach, add about 1/4 cup of pasta water, and toss to coat. Like, toss it A LOT. In Puglia, some chef’s toss the dish 100 times before serving. You don’t have to go that far, but the point is to get all of the pasta nicely coated. So give it all you’ve got!
- Give it a taste. If you feel you need some salt, add a pinch and give it a quick toss. The anchovies should bring enough salt to the dish, but suit your own preference.
- Sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the pasta and serve!
Useful Tools for This Recipe:
- Cast iron skillet or large frying pan
- Small frying pan (for toasting breadcrumbs)
- Pasta pot and strainer
- Sharp knife
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups and spoons
Recipe Tips + Tricks.
- If you can’t find orecchiette pasta, you could use another good sauce-holding shape like cascatelli or rigatoni. You could also move to a simple long noodle like capellini, spaghettini, or linguini. These tend to fair well when picking up oily sauces.
- If you prefer a tomato-rich pasta, go ahead and double up on the tomatoes!
- If you like the concept of this dish but can’t stand the idea of using anchovies (how dare you!), use chopped capers instead, and simply add them and the garlic at the same time.
- Adding that splash of pasta water near the end helps the sauce cling to the noodles while also thickening it. It’s not a necessary step, but it creates a nicer sauce.
Have You Made This Recipe?
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Love Pasta? Here Are Some More Recipes We Really Dig:
- Pappardelle Pasta with Arrabbiata Sauce
- Lemon Pasta with Arugula
- 20-Minute Tuna Pasta
- Instant Pot Creamy Tomato Pasta with Ground Turkey and Spinach
Get the Recipe:
20-Minute Orecchiette Pasta Recipe
- 12 oz orecchiette pasta
- 2 TBSP olive oil, divided
- 2 oz tin of anchovy fillets, finely minced (reserve the oil from the tin)
- 3 large cloves of garlic, grated to a paste or finely minced (about a TBSP)
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cups roughly chopped baby spinach
- 1/4 cup pasta water
- 1/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs
- Get some lightly salted water boiling for the pasta and start prepping your ingredients. As soon as the water has come to a boil, add the pasta and cook as per the directions on the packaging. Orecchiette pasta usually takes about 15 minutes.
- Heat a small pan over medium heat. Add the panko breadcrumbs and toast them, shaking the pan every once in a while, for about 2-3 minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn. When they're golden and toasty, remove from heat and set aside.
- Heat a skillet, preferably a cast iron, over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, drain the oil from the anchovy tin into the skillet (it should give you about a tablespoon). Add another tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot and sparkling, transfer the minced anchovy into the skillet and let them simmer, stirring occasionally, until they've melted down (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in the garlic and simmer for another minute. Add another TBSP of olive oil, the tomatoes, and a splash of wine if you fancy. (About a tablespoon worth.) Let it all simmer until the tomatoes are soft and they burst—about 5-7 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked orecchiette to the skillet with the spinach, then add about 1/4 cup of pasta water; toss to coat. You'll want to toss is really well to ensure the pasta is fully coated, so give it your all.
- Taste test! If you feel it needs salt, add a pinch and give it another quick toss.
- Sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the pasta and serve.