Orecchiette Pasta with Tomatoes

Orecchiette pasta is an underrated pasta shape that’s uniquely delicious! Make it into an easy dinner with blistered tomatoes and Parmesan.

Cherry tomato pasta

Some people love spaghetti the most, and others penne…but we love orecchiette pasta! Yes, it’s a little outside the standard pasta repertoire. But this unique pasta shape is underrated and needs to be part of your weekly meal planning. These days, you can find this Italian ear-shaped pasta in your local grocery store. The way the cup shape and ridges on the outside catch all that delicious flavor is truly remarkable! Here’s a bit more about this special pasta shape and our favorite way to make it into an easy dinner.

What is orecchiette pasta?

Orecchiette is a small, cup-shaped type of pasta that originates from the Puglia region in Italy. The word means “small ears” in Italian, which refers to its shape (it really does look like little ears!). The center of the pasta is thinner than the edges, and that gives it a satisfying chewy texture when you take a bite. In fact, because of the unique shape we find we eat it slower than a pasta shape like mac and cheese or penne, which makes it feel more satisfying.

Orecchiette pasta is often served with a simple tomato sauce. It also works well with chunky sauces and vegetables. And it’s fantastic for mac and cheese (why not?).

How do you pronounce orecchiette? Say it with your best Italian accent: oh-reck-ee-ET-tay.

Orecchiette pasta

Ingredients for this orecchiette pasta recipe

One of the best ways to serve orecchiette pasta is with cherry tomatoes! You’ll find that using this pasta shape, it’s easier to get some veggies in every bite. If you use long noodles, the noodles can clump up and leave all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan. Vegetables integrate perfectly into the orecchiette! Here’s what you’ll need for making this recipe:

  • Cherry tomatoes: Make sure to find the ripest cherry tomatoes! We like using multi-color cherry tomatoes for the best color contrast. These days many grocery stores carry greenhouse or hydroponic tomatoes, which have good flavor outside of tomato season. But of course the best tomatoes are local farmers market tomatoes (or from your garden!).
  • Fresh basil: Fresh basil is that age old partner with tomatoes: it adds just the right herby nuance.
  • Grated Parmesan cheese: Grated Parmesan is the powdery kind, not the one that looks like thin sticks (that’s shredded Parmesan). You can use either, but the powdery effect melds into the pasta better.
  • Olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper
Blistered tomatoes

How to blister tomatoes

This orecchiette pasta recipe uses a technique for cooking the tomatoes called “blistering.” Blistered tomatoes are cooked in a hot pan for a few minutes until the outsides char and the insides are tender. Here are a few things to note about this technique before you start:

  • Use your largest skillet. To fit 2 pints of tomatoes, you’ll need a very large skillet. If you don’t have one, you can cook the tomatoes in batches.
  • Don’t crowd the pan! If the pan is crowded when you attempt this recipe, the tomatoes will steam instead of blister, making them wet and soggy. If your pan is crowded, cook them tomatoes in 2 batches instead.
  • Cook for 1 minute without touching, then 2 to 3 more minutes. You’ll want a light char on the outsides of the tomatoes. Gently shake the pan to get the tomatoes to turn (using a spoon can make them burst).

Cook the orecchiette pasta to al dente

What makes this orecchiette pasta great is when you cook it to perfectly al dente. Overcook it and it becomes mushy and rubbery. The best orecchiette is al dente, the Italian term for cooking pasta “to the bite”. It means the noodles have a tender exterior, balanced by a firm bite with a fleck of white at its core. Here are our tips on how to cook pasta to al dente:

  • Taste often. Do not trust the package instructions! While cooking, check pasta continually for doneness. Many package instructions have inaccurate timing.
  • Look for a small white fleck. Drain the pasta as soon as the pasta has a tender exterior but a fleck of white at its core! Even a few seconds can be the difference between al dente and limp noodles.
Orecchiette pasta

Make it a meal! Serving suggestions

Once you’ve cooked up a pan of orecchiette with tomatoes, how to accessorize it? You can serve it as a vegetarian main dish with a few filling sides, or use it as a side dish for chicken or fish. Here are some serving suggestions:

Orecchiette pasta

More ways to serve orecchiette

After you make this recipe, here are a few more ways to serve orecchiette pasta and make it part of your repertoire:

  • Lemon Asparagus Pasta Toss orecchiette with lemon asparagus and feta cheese for a delicious fast and easy dinner recipe.
  • Easy Marinara Sauce All you need is a good marinara and basil, and this pasta shape tastes incredible.
  • Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto is a genius move, and using orecchiette brings new life to this classic comfort food.

This orecchiette pasta recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

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Cherry tomato pasta

Orecchiette Pasta with Tomatoes


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Orecchiette pasta is an underrated pasta shape that’s uniquely delicious! Make it into an easy dinner with blistered tomatoes and Parmesan.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces orecchiette pasta
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pints whole cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup pasta water
  • 1 handful fresh small basil leaves, chopped if large

Instructions

  1. Make the pasta: Start a pot of well salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is just al dente. Start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside; usually around 7 to 8 minutes. Before draining, reserve some pasta water with a liquid measuring cup (at least 1/4 cup). Drain the pasta.
  2. Blister the tomatoes: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a very large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the tomatoes, making sure there is space around each tomato (they are not touching) and the pan is not crowded. If you’re using a medium pan, cook the tomatoes in 2 batches.* Cook for 1 minute without touching the pan, then 2 to 3 more minutes until blistered, shaking the pan several times to rotate the tomatoes. Turn off the heat and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, gently shaking several times to coat. Add 2 pinches kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Remove the tomatoes from the pan to a bowl.
  3. Finish the dish: Mince the garlic. Once the pasta is done, in the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup pasta water, scraping the pan with a spoon to release all of the flavor of the tomato juices. Turn off the heat.
  4. Add the pasta to the pan and toss to coat. Add the blistered tomatoes, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and basil. Season with 2 pinches of kosher salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve with the remaining 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Notes

*If the pan is too crowded, the tomatoes will steam instead of blistering. It all depends on the size of your pan: if you’re using a medium pan, you’ll have to cook 1 pint at a time.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Orecchiette Pasta

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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