Spotlight Series: All About Orecchiette

Spotlight Series: All About Orecchiette

Just what is Orecchiette pasta?

With just one look at Orecchiette (pronounced oh-reh-KET-tee) it is easy to see where it gets its name. This concave, cup-shaped pasta means “little ears” in Italian, as they are the perfect little scoops for capturing chunky ragùs, creamy sauces and small ingredients.

Orecchiette pasta next to a jar of semolina flour and cup of water

Originating in Puglia, a region of Southern Italy, Orecchiette is best known for pairing up with broccoli rabe (and sometimes Italian sausage) in the pasta dish known as Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa. But that isn’t all Orecchiette pasta can do. The scooping ability of these small ears makes Orecchiette a favorite pasta shape and the choice for so many incredible recipes—from broth-based soups like Spinach & Cannellini Bean Chicken Soup to rich tomato sauces to colorful sautés featuring seasonal vegetables, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

If you’re the type of pasta lover who likes to shake things up, Orecchiette pasta just might be the pasta for you.

Delallo Orecchiette: Fast Facts

  • Category: Short pasta, shaped pasta
  • Meaning: “Little ears” in Italian
  • Cook Time: 11 to 12 minutes
  • Place of Origin: Puglia, Italy
  • Main Ingredients: Durum wheat, water
  • Alternative Names: None
  • Possible Substitute: Conchiglie, Shells

Shop DeLallo Orecchiette:

What Is Orecchiette?

Orecchiette is a concave, shell-shaped Italian pasta that is classified as a short cut. Named for its appearance of “small ears,” Orecchiette comes from Puglia, a region of Southern Italy that is known for its bold, spicy pasta dishes. Its scoop-like shape makes it a versatile type of pasta that is made for catching chunky sauces and ingredients. The dried, store-bought Orecchiette pasta is made with durum wheat that is ground into semolina flour and water. Pasta is made by extruding pasta dough through dies. True artisan Italian pasta, like DeLallo Orecchiette, uses bronze dies to extrude pasta, which gives it the ideal rough surface for absorbing sauces. The center of Orecchiette pasta is slightly thinner than the edges and the outside of the pasta shape often has ridges. These characteristics give the pasta a unique contrast of textures. Orecchiette is most famous for its feature in the Italian pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, where it brings together broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, garlic, olive oil and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. The versatile “little ears” shine in everything from simple tomato sauces to broth-based soups.

Close-up of orecchiette pasta, showcasing its excellent texture

The Origin Of Orecchiette And A Brief History

Orecchiette pasta was born in Southern Italy, more specifically Puglia. Southern Italian cuisine is known for its big, bold and sometimes spicy flavors from popular ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, fresh garlic, red peppers, chili peppers (or dried red pepper flakes) and Italian sausage… among others. This is why you find Orecchiette paired up with these flavors in many classic Italian recipes. While its true age might remain a mystery, Orecchiette is certainly an ancient pasta shape that has been made and enjoyed for hundreds of years. These days, most Orecchiette is extruded by dies in factories, but for many years, this unique pasta shape was crafted primarily by skilled artisans in Southern Italy who formed the cup-shaped pasta by hand.

How Is Orecchiette Pasta Made And What Is It Made Of?

Orecchiette is made with durum wheat that has been milled into flour, or semolina. When combined with water, this semolina becomes pasta dough. Traditionally, Orecchiette pasta is shaped by hand. The dough is kneaded then rolled into a long rope shape, about the width of your thumb. This rope is cut into pieces of equal length, essentially squares, that will become concave scoops using a butter knife, your thumb and some pasta making magic. The process requires quite a bit of finesse in order to produce the best pasta. Fresh Orecchiette pasta made this way is often sold fresh. It can also be dried so that it can be cooked or sold at a later date. Modern Orecchiette, like most pasta, is often manufactured using machines, as the demand for pasta is much higher. It’s a cost-effective, time-saving solution. Most of the Orecchiette you will find at the grocery store is factory-made.

Close-up image of many pieces of orecchiette pasta

How To Cook Orecchiette

To cook orecchiette, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season generously with salt and add the pasta. Give it a stir to help keep the pasta from clinging to the pot or each other. Cook until al dente according to the package directions, around 11 to 12 minutes, giving the pasta a stir once or twice as it cooks. Because of the pasta’s cupped shape, it can sometimes end up nestled together. Drain and immediately toss with your choice of sauce.

If you’re preparing fresh orecchiette, add it to the boiling salted water and wait for it to float, then cook for about 2 minutes more, or until al dente.

The Best Orecchiette Pasta - The Delallo Difference

Orecchiette is made using the highest quality durum wheat. The exclusive flour blend is high in gluten and protein content, which results in superior taste and texture. Additionally, the pasta is extruded using a bronze die to create a rough surface that is ideal for sopping up sauce. Dried slowly at a low temperature, the pasta-making process is designed to mimic traditional methods. DeLallo’s bucatini cooks up to a perfect al dente and is an appetizing palette for a variety of sauces.

DeLallo Orecchiette pasta in its packaging in front of a jar filled with pasta.

Orecchiette Recipes And Usage Ideas

Orecchiette pasta can do it all. Its concave shape makes it especially suited to heartier ragùs, chunk tomato sauces and small ingredients. Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe are classic dishes commonly found on Italian-American restaurant menus, but the pasta also pairs nicely with tomato sauces and pasta dishes packed with seasonal vegetables and meats. Orecchiette is a type of pasta perfect for all of your favorite cold pasta salads, as it is able to scoop up all those classic picnic pasta ingredients: chopped veggies, cubed cheeses and meats, olives and anything else bite-sized. Anytime you crave a variation of texture and that fun small ear shape, Orecchiette is your go to!

For more Orecchiette pasta recipe ideas and inspiration, click here.

The Best Sauces For Orecchiette

The best sauces for Orecchiette are chunky tomato sauces, ragùs and sauces loaded with vegetables, meats and other small ingredients. That said, Orecchiette is a versatile cut that shines in everything from soups to cheesy pasta bakes. When pairing Orecchiette with bold ingredients like broccoli rabe or spicy Italian sausage, consider a simple sauce of garlic and olive oil. Top it off with a generous sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. “Small ears” are also a great choice for hearty or chunky tomato-based sauces like marinara, Vodka Sauce, and Bolognese. In spring and summertime, Orecchiette pasta can take on pesto or a brilliant vinaigrette in your favorite pasta salad recipe.

Orecchiette Substitutes

Since Orecchiette is often chosen for its unique shape, it’s best to use a similar shape when swapping in recipes. The closest pasta shape is Conchiglie, or small shells. Shell pasta and Orecchiette aren’t exactly the same, but both boast texture variation and a scooping ability, while being the same size. In a pinch, you can use any pasta that has good nooks and crannies, such as Penne or Farfalle.

Delallo Orecchiette: FAQ

How Do I Pronounce “Orecchiette”?

Orecchiette is pronounced “oh-reh-KET-tee.”

What Does “Orecchiette” Mean?

Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian, and is named for the pasta’s signature concave disc shape.

Why Is It Called Orecchiette?

Orecchiette is named for its shape. The word means “little ears” in Italian and the pasta resembles little cups, or ears.

What Pasta Is Closest To Orecchiette?

No pasta is exactly like Orecchiette, which has a unique shape and texture. However, Conchiglie (small shells) are one of the closest when substituting in a recipe. Its hollow shell shape does a similar job of capturing sauces and small ingredients.

How Do Italians Eat Orecchiette?

In the Puglia region of Italy, Orecchiette pasta is traditionally prepared with rapini or broccoli rabe or is tossed with tomato sauce and topped with crumbled ricotta and sometimes small meatballs. Being that it is from Southern Italy, where spicy and bold flavors reign, Orecchiette is often paired up with these more flavorful ingredients. The pasta is prepared a number of different ways throughout the country, featuring ingredients like seafood, Italian sausage, various vegetables and numerous sauces.

Do You Eat Orecchiette With A Spoon Or Fork?

How you choose to eat pasta is your own business, but Orecchiette is typically served in restaurants with a fork. When pasta is served with a spoon, it is usually for serving, or in the case of long strands like spaghetti, to help twirl the pasta around a fork. Orecchiette is a short pasta cut and is easy to eat with a fork.

Orecchiette Vs. Orzo - What Is The Difference?

Orecchiette pasta is shaped like small concave discs, while Orzo is much smaller and shaped like flattened grains of rice. The two Italian pastas are very different and aren’t typically swapped one for the other. ​​Orecchiette is best suited for tomato sauces and chunky ingredients, while Orzo is most often used in soups and pasta salads.

Orecchiette Vs. Pasta Shells (Conchiglie) - What Is The Difference?

While Orecchiette and Conchiglie can be swapped for each other in recipes, they do have distinct differences. Orecchiette is shaped like small concave discs and is slightly thinner in the center than the edges. Small shells, or conchiglie, are ridged and shaped like small shells, curving around their openings. The two pasta can be swapped in recipes, as they make good pasta cuts for scooping, but note that the texture and appearance will differ.

Where To Buy Delallo Orecchiette?

Order DeLallo Orecchiette Pasta online or find it at most major supermarkets across the country.