From the region of Apulia, located in the south of Italy, comes orecchiette pasta, a variety of small, dimpled noodles which are thought to resemble an ear. Traditionally this pasta type is dressed up with a tomato sauce, broccoli, meatballs, or a sprinkle of ricotta cheese. However, you can design your own bowl of orecchiette pasta using just about any toppings you like, from seasonal veggies like butternut squash and Brussels sprouts to spicy sausage and pancetta. No matter how you prepare this versatile pasta, you'll be left with a hearty, comforting Italian dish perfect for a simple weeknight dinner or even a date night in.
Take a look at these mouthwatering orecchiette recipes and be inspired to break bread, pop open a bottle of wine, and mangia.
Creamy Parmesan Orecchiette With Butternut Squash and Broccolini
The Hero Ingredient: Butternut squash. After roasting the vegetable in the oven, toss the tender squash into your creamy pasta creation full of flavorful garlic and thyme.
The Pro Tip: This pasta will stay fresh for several days, so Lindsay of Pinch of Yum recommends making this recipe in a big batch to be enjoyed for days to come.
Orecchiette With Peas, Asparagus, and Mascarpone
The Recipe: Orecchiette With Peas, Asparagus, and Mascarpone
The Hero Ingredient: There's nothing quite as decadent as a large dollop of mascarpone cheese. Here, it's used to top this lemony, light pasta dish full of chopped asparagus and sugar snap peas.
The Pro Tip: Heather of Flourishing Foodie warns against overcooking your vegetables. You want the asparagus and sugar snap peas to remain crisp in texture.
Orecchiette With Yellow Tomatoes and Bocconcini
The Recipe: Orecchiette With Yellow Tomatoes and Bocconcini
The Hero Ingredient: Bocconcini is the standout ingredient of this orecchiette recipe. It's a small ball of mozzarella cheese that adds major flavor to this dish. Plus, if you're preparing this for others, you can impress your dinner guests with your knowledge of this Italian ingredient.
The Pro Tip: Be sure to crush the tomatoes when heating them on the stove. This will release their juices and create a thicker texture, according to Stephanie of I Am a Food Blog.
Butternut Squash and Pancetta Orecchiette
The Hero Ingredient: Saffron threads. The spice is thought to be a powerful antioxidant; it adds a lovely color and fragrance to any dish.
The Pro Tip: Jenny of Spoon Fork Bacon likes to use grated pecorino Romano cheese to garnish this pasta dish. She explains that because it's made of sheep's milk, it has a stronger flavor that adds something special to the dish.
Carbonara Pasta With Charred Brussels Sprouts
The Recipe: Carbonara Pasta With Charred Brussels Sprouts
The Hero Ingredient: Shiitake mushrooms aren't a traditional topping for carbonara, but they add a lovely flavor to this dish after they're sautéed and covered in creamy sauce.
The Pro Tip: "Mixing the egg yolks into the pasta really, really well is the key," writes Heidi of Foodie Crush. This gives the sauce its body and keeps anything resembling a hard-boiled egg yolk out of your pasta.
Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Orecchiette
The Recipe: Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Orecchiette
The Hero Ingredient: Delicious spicy Italian sausage earns this orecchiette recipe serious flavor points. The traditional meat has a strong taste that mixes nicely in the shelled pasta once ground up.
The Pro Tip: Jessie of Life as a Strawberry suggests cooking the orecchiette in generously salted water for a true Italian flavor. It's a simple but important step you won't want to forget.
One-Pot Vegan Pasta
The Recipe: One-Pot Vegan Pasta
The Hero Ingredient: This dish is incredibly customizable, but eggplant takes the cake for adding unique flavors and texture to the recipe that also calls for mushrooms, garlic, and vegan marinara sauce.
The Pro Tip: Cook this meal in one pot for a quick cleanup. Sautée the veggies in a big pot before setting them aside to add pasta, sauce, and seasonings, Dana of Minimalist Baker explains.
Butternut Orecchiette Pasta With Arugula
The Recipe: Butternut Orecchiette Pasta With Arugula
The Hero Ingredient: Chickpeas offer this fall-inspired orecchiette recipe something extra. Add a few cups of cooked chickpeas to the pasta with pecorino, arugula, and pine nuts before serving.
The Pro Tip: Even if you don't have a blender or food processor to prepare the sauce in, Laura of The First Mess suggests mashing the squash and garlic with a potato masher before whisking the ingredients together in a pan with vegetable stock.
While it seems as though butternut squash is the most popular ingredient in these orecchiette recipes, each offers an entirely different variation on the Italian dish. Try them all and decide your favorite way to dress up the pasta.