Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli

June 12, 2021

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy.

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli is a super simple recipe that uses minimal ingredients yet packs rich, savory, satisfying flavors. It includes hearty pasta, seasoned Italian sausage, tender fresh broccoli, flavorful olive oil, and bold and nutty tasting parmesan.

Photo: Orecchiette pasta with sausage and broccoli in a white serving bowl set over a wooden platter on a marble surface. It is shown from above.

What is Orecchiette?

Orecchiette is a type of southern Italian pasta shaped like little ears. The word ‘orecchia’ translates to ‘ear’ while the suffix ‘etta’ translates to ‘small’ or ‘little’.

It is made from semolina flour and can be found in two sizes, but in the U.S. usually just one size (in this recipe we use the larger size that’s about 1/2-inch, the smaller works well for soups).

Orecchiette holds sauces well with it’s bowl form, and it’s a fun unique shape to cook with.

You can purchase it online, or I’ve also found this type of pasta at Target and larger Kroger stores.

You’ll love it in this easy recipe!

Photo: Ingredients used to make orecchiette with sausage and broccoli shown. Includes Italian sausage, pasta, broccoli, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Orecchiette Recipe Ingredients and Possible Substitutes

  • Broccoli crowns: Broccoli rabe will also work here, you’ll just want to include more stem. One large bunch of kale would be another tasty option.
  • Orecchiette pasta: If you are having difficulty tracking down this specialty pasta, you can substitute orecchiette with small shells, mini penne, farfelle, or cavetelli.
  • Salt and pepper: I use regular table salt but kosher salt is great too.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: If you’d like you can use butter here instead.
  • Garlic: Use fresh garlic for best flavor.
  • Italian sausage: Recipe was made with Italian pork sausage but Italian turkey sausage will be great too. Hot or mild may be used depending on what heat you prefer.
  • Parmesan: Romano cheese will make a great substitute if that’s what you have.
  • Red pepper flakes: If you use hot sausage, you won’t need these, unless you want it spicier.
  • Pasta water: I include this in the ingredients list because it is critical to the recipe and we use a generous amount, so just another reminder not to drain it (most recipes will just note it in the directions section of the recipe).

Photo: Collage of four images showing how to boil and drain broccoli and cook orecchiette pasta in boiling water in pot.

Photo: Collage of six images showing how to finish making orecchiette pasta recipe. Includes browning sausage in skillet, adding pasta water, adding cooked pasta, then parmesan and broccoli.

How to Make Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli

  1. Boil salted water in pot: Add 4 quarts of water to a large pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat then season with salt (I use 2 Tbsp).
  2. Cook broccoli in water: Add broccoli to boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 – 5 minutes. Using a spider or a sieve, remove broccoli and transfer to a colander, while leaving water in pot.
  3. Remove broccoli, rinse: Run broccoli under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well. Chop broccoli into smaller pieces.
  4. Cook pasta in same pot: Add pasta to water in pot and boil until it’s just barely al dente, according to times listed on package. Reserve 1 1/2 cups pasta water.
  5. Heat oiled skillet: While pasta is boiling, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil into a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Cook sausage in skillet: Crumble sausage in small chunks into skillet and cook, breaking up and tossing occasionally, until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add garlic during last 2 minutes of cooking the sausage.
  7. Simmer pasta water with sausage, toss in pasta and cook: Pour in 1 cup of the pasta water into the sausage. Let it simmer for about a minute and reduce slightly. Add al dente pasta and cook while tossing, until tender, about 2 minutes.
  8. Add olive oil and pepper flakes: Drizzle in remaining 3 Tbsp olive oil, season with red pepper flakes to taste and toss.
  9. Toss in cheese: Sprinkle in parmesan, and toss to melt into sauce.
  10. Finish with broccoli: Toss in broccoli. Season with salt as needed and pepper to taste.
  11. Thin sauce as needed, garnish servings: Loosen with more pasta water as needed. Drizzle servings with more olive oil if desired, serve with garnished with more parmesan.

Photo: Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli shown in a black skillet from above.

Helpful Tips

  • Remembering pasta water: If you have a hard time remembering to reserve pasta water before draining the pasta, you can set a 2-cup glass measuring cup in the colander in the sink as a reminder to ladle out some of that pasta water and reserve before draining.
  • Don’t sub pasta water: It is critical to use pasta water and not just tap water or even broth because it won’t have the necessary starches to help bind and emulsify the sauce – including the oil, cheese and water.
  • Sear and brown the sausage: Only toss the sausage occasionally while cooking. You want it to brown and not steam. I like to begin with chunks and let them really sear on that first side then start turning and breaking up after a few minutes.
  • Start with a hot skillet: A preheated hot skillet is also critical to achieve a nice sear on the sausage.
  • No soggy pasta: Set a timer for the pasta and only boil close to al dente because it will cook a second time in the skillet to your preferred texture.
  • Keep the sausage fat: Don’t drain that rendered sausage fat! It adds lots of flavor here.
  • Add extra olive oil as needed: Add more olive oil to taste. I prefer to add a few extra tablespoons for richness and flavor. It can vary how much you may need depending on how fatty the batch of sausage was and how much rendered fat it gives off.
  • Make the splurge: Use good quality parmesan such as Murray’s from the big cheese wheels at the deli.

Photo: Orecchiette pasta with broccoli, Italian sausage and parmesan in a s olive oil sauce.

More Pasta Favorites to Try

Photo: Orecchiette pasta with sausage and broccoli in a white serving bowl set over a wooden platter on a marble surface. It is shown from above.
5 from 3 votes

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli

A super simple recipe that uses minimal ingredients yet packs rich, savory, satisfying flavors. It includes hearty pasta, seasoned Italian sausage, tender fresh broccoli, flavorful olive oil, and bold and nutty tasting parmesan.
Servings: 6
Prep10 minutes
Cook20 minutes
Ready in: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb broccoli crowns, bottom stalk trimmed and reserved for another use, remaining cut into florets
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. orecchiette pasta
  • 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more if desired
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 lb Italian sausage* (can use mild or hot)
  • 2/3 cup (1.6 oz) finely shredded Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups reserved pasta water, divided
  • Red pepper flakes, for serving

Instructions

  • Add 4 quarts of water to a large pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat then season with salt (I use 2 Tbsp).
  • Add broccoli to boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 - 5 minutes. Using a spider, remove broccoli and transfer to a colander, while leaving water in pot.
  • Run broccoli under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well. Chop broccoli into smaller pieces.
  • Add pasta to water in pot and boil about 1 minutes shy of al dente, according to time listed on package. Reserve 1 1/2 cups pasta water.
  • While pasta is boiling, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil into a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Crumble sausage in small chunks into skillet and cook, breaking up and tossing occasionally, until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add garlic during last 2 minutes of cooking the sausage.
  • Pour in 1 cup of the pasta water into the sausage. Let it simmer for about a minute and reduce slightly. Add all dente pasta and cook while tossing, until tender, about 2 minutes.
  • Drizzle in remaining 3 Tbsp olive oil, season with red pepper flakes to taste and toss.
  • Sprinkle in parmesan, and toss to melt into sauce.
  • Toss in broccoli. Season with salt as needed and pepper to taste.
  • Loosen with more pasta water as needed. Drizzle servings with more olive oil if desired, serve with garnished with more parmesan.

Notes

*If you have links on hand vs loose sausage then use 4 Italian sausage links. Cut and remove casings.
Nutrition Facts
Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli
Amount Per Serving
Calories 527 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 12g75%
Polyunsaturated Fat 4g
Monounsaturated Fat 18g
Cholesterol 47mg16%
Sodium 700mg30%
Potassium 581mg17%
Carbohydrates 49g16%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 23g46%
Vitamin A 537IU11%
Vitamin C 70mg85%
Calcium 153mg15%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition values are estimates only. See full disclaimer here.