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Orecchiette from Puglia, the little ear we all love!

To choose a quintessential recipe from Puglia, it was clear it had to be a recipe with orecchiette. It's such a staple in the street of the tiny villages of Puglia to see the nonnas (grandmothers) sit outside, making fresh pasta. Until recently, orecchiette, the small, round pasta was the region’s best-kept secret. Now, this mainstay of Pugliese cucina povera (Kitchen of the poor) is having somewhat of a moment in the UK and beyond, popping up in recipes of famous chefs like Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi. The pasta’s unique concave shape not only explains its frankly adorable name, meaning “little ears” in Italian (orrechia– ears, etta – small), but it is also the perfect shape to scoop up every bit of flavor. 

I actually have two of my favorite orecchiette recipes that I would like to share. Both are very different, but both are super easy and delicious! 

Orecchiette Puttanesca

This one-pan vegetarian orecchiette puttanesca is as easy as an Ottolenghi dish gets! This is a sweetened version of puttanesca (minus the anchovies), plus chickpeas and spices. It’s quick and super practical to make because the pasta actually cooks in the sauce. Try it, and you may not feel the need to boil pasta ever again.


50mlolive oil, plus 2 tbsp to serve
6garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 400g tin ofchickpeas drained well and patted dry (240g)
2 tsphot smoked paprika
2 tspground cumin
¾ tbsptomato paste
40gparsley, roughly chopped
2 tsplemon zest
3 tbspbaby capers
125gNocellara olives (or another green olive), pitted and roughly chopped in half (80g)
250gsmall, sweet cherry tomatoes
2 tspcaster sugar
½ tbspcaraway seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
250gdried orecchiette
500mlvegetable or chicken stock
 salt and black pepper


1. Put the first six ingredients and . a teaspoon of salt into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on medium-high heat. Fry for 12 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the chickpeas are slightly crisp – you may need to turn the heat down a little if they start to color too much. Remove one-third of the chickpeas and set aside to use as a garnish.

2. In a small bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest, capers, and olives. Add two-thirds of the parsley mixture to the sauce. pan, along with the cherry tomatoes, sugar, and caraway seeds, and cook for 2 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring often. Add the pasta, stock, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and 200ml of water, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium, cover with the lid, and cook for 12–14 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.

3. Stir in the remaining parsley mixture, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and garnish with the fried chickpeas and a good grind of pepper.


Second Orecchiette Recipe: 

Caramelized onion orecchiette with hazelnuts and sage

This pasta dish is as minimalistic as Cacio e Pepe, it’s one of those dishes that feels so much more than the sum of its parts. A few ingredients are brought together to make a magic combination of flavors!


105ml olive oil

20g sage leaves

320g (2) onions peeled and thinly sliced

250g orecchiette

salt & freshly cracked black pepper

1 ½ Tbsp lemon juice

50g hazelnuts


1. Put the oil in a large saute pan for which you have a lid, and place on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sage leaves and fry, stirring often, for about four minutes, until dark green and crisp, then tip into a sieve set over a small bowl. Spoon two tablespoons of the sage oil into a small frying pan and set aside.

2. Return the saute pan to medium-high heat, pour in the rest of the sage oil from the bowl, and, once hot, add the onions and sweat, stirring regularly, for 25 minutes, until golden but not dark. Tip the pasta into the pan, add 700ml room-temperature water, a teaspoon and a quarter of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of cracked black pepper, and stir to combine. Cover the pan, turn down the heat to medium, and leave to simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta is al dente. Drizzle over the lemon juice and sprinkle on another quarter-teaspoon of cracked pepper, cover again, and set aside.

3. Put the small frying pan with the reserved sage oil on medium heat, add the hazelnuts, and fry gently until golden. Spoon the nuts and the oil all over the pasta, sprinkle on the crisp fried sage leaves and serve hot straight from the pan.

Note: Other nuts will also work well (for example walnuts or almonds)

Pair it with a glass of Salice Salentino or  Primitivo, two of the most popular and widely available wines from Puglia.  

Puglian Holiday Places

Plinius No. 029: 14 Guest | 7 BR | 6 BA

Plinius No. 034: 12 Guest | 6 BR | 6 BA

Plinius No. 005 : 10 Guest | 5 BR | 2 BA

Insiders Guide PULIA  

Recipes from Flavour  ~ by Yotam Ottolenghi 

Mila Groen