Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola (Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula)

Frankpasta, primi piatti, Puglia39 Comments

Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola (Orecchiette Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula)

Here’s my candidate for the quickest and easiest pasta of all time, orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola, or Orecchiette Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula.

As many of you will know, orecchiette, literally meaning “little ears”, is perhaps the most iconic fresh pasta of Italy’s Puglia region. Many if not most people associate this pasta with Puglia’s arguably best known pasta dish, the hefty and comforting orecchiette con cime di rapa, but you can dress orecchiette with any number of condimenti.

A particularly lovely way to dress them, especially in the warmer months, is with a sauce of cherry tomatoes, just lightly wilted in garlic and oil, and fresh arugula leaves. If you like things spicy, you can throw in a little hot pepper. And if you’re a cheese-lover, you can add that to the mix.

Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola is light and refreshing. And super quick: you can literally make the sauce in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. That means you can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less, depending on how long it takes for the water to come to the boil, which makes orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola an ideal choice for weeknight meals or just those times when you want something light, quick and easy. And did I mention delicious?

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 450g (1 lb) orecchiette pasta
  • 500g (1 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 bunch/package (about 150g/5 oz) fresh arugula, roughly chopped if the leaves are large
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
  • olive oil
  • salt

Optional:

  • 1 peperoncino (hot red peppers) or a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Grated cheese (cacioricotta, pecorino, parmigiano-reggiano or ricotta salata)

Directions

Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and throw in the pasta. Cook until al dente.

In the meantime, in a large skillet or wok, sauté the garlic gently in abundant olive oil and along with the peperoncino if you like things spicy. When the garlic just begins to brown around the edges, discard it along with the hot pepper if using.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and let them sauté until they just begin to wilt, seasoning with salt. If your pasta isn’t done yet, turn off the heat. (If you prefer more of a sauce, you can let them melt a bit more.)

When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan, along with the arugula. (At this point you can also add the grated cheese if using.) Toss over lively heat for a few moments until the pasta and its sauce are well mixed and any excess liquid has cooked off.

Serve right away, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you like, with additional grated cheese on the side for those who want it.

Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola (Orecchiette Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula)

Notes

When shopping for orecchiette, look for the kind that looks like this:

Real orecchiette are not extruded like commercial pasta but rather stretched across a flat surface. This results in a rather thick and somewhat irregularly shaped pasta, with a wrinkled surface, all of which gives orecchiette a wonderfully chewy texture. You can usually find real orecchiette in Italian delis, online and sometimes at more upscale supermarkets. What you want to avoid are the “orecchiette” produced by the big commercial pasta makers, which is what you’re likely to find in the supermarket around the corner (assuming you don’t live in Italy, of course). These are basically just ordinary extruded pasta shaped to resemble (more or less) orecchiette. Meh.

Of course, the best orecchiette are homemade. You make them with a simple dough of semola remacinata (finely ground hard durum wheat flour) and water. You roll the dough out into logs, then you cut small pieces from the log and stretch them out across a wooden board, typically with the blunt side of a knife. If need be, you shape them by wrapping each orecchietta around your thumb.

If you’re ever in Bari, head to the Strada Arco Basso, where you can see old ladies making orecchiette on the street, as demonstrated in this video:

It’s all very touristy but a lot of fun. At least I imagine so. Sadly, when I was in Bari and went to the Strada Arco Basso I found orecchiette out on display but, perhaps because it was rather chilly that day, the ladies weren’t at work—my second disappointment after finding Al Sorso Preferito closed.

One day I plan to blog on making orecchiette at home, but first I need to master the process. Mine tend to turn out much too big, more like orecchiette giganti or giant orecchiette—a shape that actually does exist but isn’t standard. What can I say, I have large hands…

Other pastas you can use

All this said, in a pinch this cherry tomato and arugula sauce will go with other pasta shapes as well. Look for those with a similar concave shape that will catch this chunky sauce. Shapes like conchiglie (“shells”) (NB: look for the regular sized ones, not large shells for stuffing), pipe rigate or lumache (“snails”) all work well. Personally I’d avoid the faux orecchiette mentioned above. Even as a regular pasta, they’re not very appealing.

Other ingredients

If you want to add cheese, cacioricotta would perhaps be the most typically Puglian choice, but here in the US at least I haven’t found it either in stores or online. Pecorino or, for a milder flavor, parmigiano-reggiano are typical alternatives. Although never mentioned in other recipes, I would also imagine ricotta salata from Sicily would also work nicely. You can add the grated cheese to the pan to melt into the sauce during the final tossing, or you can just serve it on the side. Or if you really like cheese, both. Personally I prefer this dish without any cheese at all.

Look for small leaved arugula, the kind sometimes marketed as ‘baby’ arugula here in the US. The leaves are more tender and have less of a ‘bite’ than large leaf arugula. If the more mature large leaf arugula is all you can find, then roughly chop it before adding them. Although I prefer the freshness of adding the arugula at the last minute, if you find the taste a bit too bitter, you can do as most recipes call for and cook them, either in the sauce or along with the pasta, for a several minutes.

As for the olive oil, extra virgin is, as always, a must. Preferably a nice deep green fruity oil from Puglia if you can find it.(If you’ve ever been to Puglia, you will notice the countryside is absolutely teeming with ancient olive trees everywhere you look.) If not, try one from Sicily, which produces similarly rich and fruity olive oils.

Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola

Orecchiette Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula
Total Time20 minutes
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Italian, Puglia
Keyword: easy, quick, vegan, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 450g (1 lb) orecchiette pasta
  • 500g (1 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 bunch/package (about 150g/5 oz) fresh arugula, roughly chopped if the leaves are large
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
  • olive oil
  • salt

Optional

  • 1 peperoncino (hot red pepper) or a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • grated cheese cacioricotta, pecorino, parmigiano-reggiano or ricotta salata

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and throw in the pasta. Cook until al dente. 
  • In the meantime, in a large skillet or wok, sauté the garlic gently in abundant olive oil and along with the peperoncino if you like things spicy. When the garlic just begins to brown around the edges, discard it along with the hot pepper if using. 
  • Add the tomatoes to the pan and let them sauté until they just begin to wilt, seasoning with salt. If your pasta isn't done yet, turn off the heat. (If you prefer more of a sauce, you can let them melt a bit more.)
  • When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan, along with the arugula. (At this point you can also add the grated cheese if using.) Toss over lively heat for a few moments until the pasta and its sauce are well mixed and any excess liquid has cooked off.
  • Serve right away, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you like, with additional grated cheese on the side for those who want it. 

Enter your email address below and you'll receive new posts in your inbox as soon as they're published, at absolutely no charge. You'll never miss another recipe!

39 Comments on “Orecchiette con pomodorini e rucola (Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula)”

  1. Arugula, also known as rocket or roquette, is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It’s known for its distinctive peppery flavor and is often used in salads, sandwiches, and various culinary dishes.
    Arugula meaning in urdu leaves are typically elongated and have a deep green color with serrated edges.

  2. This Orecchiette con Pomodorini e Rucola (Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula) recipe from Memorie di Angelina sounds absolutely amazing! The combination of flavorful cherry tomatoes and peppery arugula creates a refreshing and vibrant pasta dish. The presentation is visually appealing, with the colorful tomatoes and green arugula adding a pop of color to the dish. The preparation process seems simple yet delicious, allowing the fresh ingredients to shine. It’s a recipe that captures the essence of Italian cuisine and promises a delightful balance of flavors. Perfect for those seeking a light and satisfying pasta dish that’s bursting with Mediterranean goodness!

  3. Thank you for sharing this delightful recipe. It’s a lovely way to enjoy orecchiette and make use of fresh cherry tomatoes and arugula. I’m sure many people will appreciate its simplicity and flavorful combination.

  4. Make this all the time, so simple and tasty, especially in the summer when my Farmer’s Market has really good cherry tomatoes. And not to be one of those “loved this recipe, I added this this and this…” but occasionally i will sauté some shrimp cut into bite sized pieces…

    1. This must be fantastic with cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market! And adding shrimp sounds great, too. I’ve heard of all sorts of variations on this basic recipe, with seafood, pancetta, olives and capers… I usually include a paragraph or two on these variations but I was feeling a bit lazy this week …

  5. Frank — as we have discussed, the simplicity of Italian cuisine is astounding. We made this recipe last evening, adding a tiny bit of peperoncino, and it was spectacular. With less than a handful of ingredients, you have created a fantastic dish. We barely had the wherewithal to put half of it away for another meal! (And I did use store bought orecchiette, as I had no semolina.)

    After years of trials, I am very happy with the results now. In the beginning, I (naïvely) used my thumb but soon learned the knife technique. Next summer, when I’m in Italy, I will be buying an appropriate kitchen knife just for orecchiette. I would be really happy to help you with orecchiette (and all the other cool shapes you can use with that dough).

    1. That’s fantastic, David. So glad you like it. Although the merit is hardly mine since this is a traditional dish. Well, I guess my contribution is making sure it’s clear to folks how to go about preparing it. That said, I’ll take the accolades anyway… 😉

      And yes, I may well take you up on an orecchiette lesson one of these days! Actually, as mentioned in the post, I can get the shape alright but they always turn out much bigger than I want them.

  6. Italians have mastered simple, amazing food, and this recipe is a perfect example! We have a bunch of cherry tomatoes growing in the garden, so I’ll have to give this one a try once they ripen. And like you, I would love to see orecchiette being made in Bari. Guess you just need to plan another trip, huh? 🙂

  7. Looks inviting! Takes no time at all to fix! And we are quite likely to have the few ingredients at home already . . . a delightful dish at the end of a tiring day . . . 🙂 !

  8. With fresh arugula and beautiful cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, this will be perfect for an evening this week. I wish I had semolina to make the orecchiette, but I can do that next time.

    1. Hope you like it, David! It’s delicious even with store bought. And if you know how to make orecchiette at home, can you give me lessons..? 😉

  9. It took no effort at all to convince David to add this dish to next week’s menu. Ingredients available at our Farmers Market tomorrow, summery, refreshing recipe as our weather nudges up into the 100s.

    1. Hehe! I’m so glad this caught your eye, Mark. Perfect weather for that heat wave. It’s getting hot here, too. Finally warm enough to use the pool. It’s been a rather chilly spring, though I’m not complaining.

  10. This looks amazing! I think I’m going to make this for Father’s day for my dad. Thanks for sharing Frank!

  11. These simple pasta dishes are perfect for our hot, humid, summer days. I haven’t had Orecchiette in a long time, so this recipe is the perfect opportunity to rectify that. The colours are gorgeous too. Definitely going on my list for an upcoming menu plan.

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.