Sausage Orecchiette is a quick and easy Italian pasta dish that uses minimal ingredients. This perfect weeknight dinner takes only 30 minutes and tastes like it came from a fine restaurant! It's a comforting and flavorful meal that uses no cream and no cheese without any loss of flavor! It is sure to become a family favorite!
30-Minute quick and easy dinner
Looking for a simple flavor-packed meal that you can make in 30 minutes? This Italian-inspired sausage orecchiette pasta is one of my go-to quick recipes when I am short on time. It's easy enough to make on a regular busy weeknight, yet looks quite fancy to entertain guests. The comments that I received from family and friends are that this dish tastes (and presents) like you're eating at a fancy restaurant. And the best part? It takes only 30 minutes of your time and a few basic ingredients! The Italian sausage is seared and then combined with store-bought tomato sauce, garlic, fresh spinach, and fresh diced tomatoes! Then, it's tossed with orecchiette pasta and topped with red pepper flakes. It's simple and delicious just like this Italian sausage pasta or these 30-minute one-pan sausage gnocchi.
Why you'll love it
- Simplicity. Sausage orecchiette is a simple 30-minute dinner that uses minimal ingredients and store-bought tomato sauce. It's a must-have to have in your rotation for busy weeknights.
- Lighter pasta recipe that uses no cream and no cheese. This is a lighter pasta recipe that uses a ton of veggies and no heavy ingredients like cream or cheese.
- Flexible recipe. This recipe is highly adjustable to whatever you have available. Use any short pasta you like. Use a store-bought tomato pasta sauce or marinara sauce sold in glass jars. Or, use canned crushed tomatoes.
- Tasty flavor combo. Italian sausage and orecchiette pasta make an amazing combination. This meal is simple, yet the flavors are fantastic! It tastes like a pasta dish from a fine Italian restaurant and might become one of your family's favorite meals.
What is Orecchiette?
I've used small pasta shells here, called Orecchiette. This pasta originated in Apulia, a region of Southern Italy. Interestingly, "Orecchio" means "ear" and "Etto" means "small" in Italian, so translated this pasta is actually called "small ears", as the shape of these pasta shells can remind you of the shape of small ears. Not to freak you out. Any small pasta shells will work here, but I just love orecchiette! This type of pasta is often used with vegetable sauces, and it worked perfectly in this recipe with crumbled sausage and tomato-based sauce coating every single little shell (ear)!
- Sausage. I used crumbled Italian sausage. It can be spicy, mild, or sweet. You can also use Italian sausage links (casings removed, sausage links sliced).
- Orecchiette pasta is a short-shaped pasta that has a shape of a small dome and resembles an ear. Because of its shape, it will add an appealing look to your dinner. It pairs well with the tomato-based sauce in this recipe. Cook orecchiette pasta al dente for best texture.
- Tomato sauce for pasta. Use your favorite tomato sauce - it can be a store-bought pasta sauce or marinara sauce. Any flavor will work: traditional, tomato basil, arrabbiata, or garlic tomato sauce.
- Spinach. I used fresh spinach and cooked it right in the same pan as the pasta sauce. You can also use frozen spinach - thawed and drained of any liquid. Or, use kale or arugula instead.
How to make sausage orecchiette
Below are general instructions. For the complete recipe, scroll down to the recipe card.
1) First, bring the pot of water to a boil. Add orecchiette pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta once it's cooked.
2) While the pasta is cooked, proceed with the rest of the recipe. In a large, high-sided skillet, cook the crumbled Italian sausage with 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
4) Then, to the same skillet with cooked sausage, add minced garlic and Italian seasoning.
5) Next, add the tomato marinara pasta sauce and spinach.
6) Once you add all these ingredients to the skillet, bring everything to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the spinach wilts, occasionally stirring.
7) Then, add the cooked and drained pasta together with chopped fresh tomato to the pan with the sausage mixture, and mix everything well. Remove from heat.
What type of sausage to use with orecchiette pasta?
- Crumbled Italian sausage. I used 15 oz of crumbled mild Italian sausage. I added some pepper flakes to my dish to spicy it up. Spicy or sweet sausage would work, too.
- Italian sausage links. You can also use Italian sausage in casings. I would remove the casings and slice the sausage.
- Chicken or turkey sausage is another great option.
- Beyond Sausage, a brand is a great option for a plant-based, vegetarian version.
Cooking Tips, Variations, and Substitutions
- Use red wine. Add a splash of dry red wine (about ¼ cup) to the tomato marinara sauce, if you like. It will add richness and depth of flavor to the sauce.
- What is a good substitute for canned tomato sauce? You can use canned diced tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes instead.
- Use any short-shaped pasta if you can't find orecchiette. This includes bow tie (farfalle), spiral pasta (fusilli), rotini, rigatoni, or penne.
- Veggies. You can use arugula or kale instead of spinach. You can also add more veggies, such as bell peppers and mushrooms.
- Want to make it spicy? Add some red pepper flakes or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Toppings. Any pasta will taste even better if sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Other great toppings are red pepper flakes, chopped chives, or green onions. or toasted pine nuts.
Can you make it vegan?
Yes, you can! Use plant-based vegan sausage substitutes, such as the Beyond Sausage brand. And, always check the labels!
Can you make it gluten-free?
Of course! This recipe uses basic ingredients and is easy to make gluten-free. Use gluten-free short-shaped pasta, such as farfalle (bow-tie), fusilli, rigatoni, and penne. Also, check the labels of all the other ingredients you're using to ensure they are gluten-free.
Storage and reheating tips
Because sausage orecchiette is made without any cream or cheese, this 30-minute weeknight meal is easy to store and reheat. You can also make this ahead. Here are some tips:
- Fridge. Store sausage orecchiette pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezer. Freese the pasta in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- Reheat in the microwave oven. Reheat the refrigerated pasta in a microwave oven for about 1 minute. Taste and reheat for 30 seconds more, if needed.
- Reheat on the stovetop. Reheat the leftovers in a large, high-sided skillet on the stovetop on low-medium heat.
What to serve with it
- Bread. Sausage orecchiette pasta pairs well with baguette, garlic bread, olive bread, or sourdough bread. If you want to venture out and make your own simple loaf - try this easy bread recipe made in a bread machine.
- Salad. Any type of simple fresh salad will make an excellent pairing. Throw some greens (spinach or arugula) together with olive oil or balsamic vinegar-based salad dressing for a simple salad. Top with toasted nuts and Parmesan cheese.
- My salad recommendations. Serve this pasta with a simple spinach salad with pine nuts and Parmesan or cranberry spinach salad with cashews and goat cheese. Or, pair the pasta with the colorful and easy-to-make arugula salad with apples, cranberries, and pecans.
Other recipes that use orecchiette pasta shape
- Corn Pasta Salad with Bacon and Creamy Pesto Dressing
- Creamy Orecchiette Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms and Green Bell Peppers (Meatless Recipe)
Other sausage pasta recipes you might like
- Italian Sausage Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Spinach, and Mushrooms
- Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sausage and Spinach
- Creamy Sausage Tortellini with Spinach, Tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese sauce
- 30-Minute One-Pan Italian Sausage Gnocchi
- Creamy Sausage Tortellini with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella Cheese Sauce
- Italian Sausage Pasta with Vegetables
- Creamy Mozzarella Pasta with Smoked Sausage
Sausage Orecchiette with Spinach and Tomatoes (30-Minute Meal)
- 12 oz Orecchiette pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 15 oz Italian sausage mild, crumbled
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning or Herbs from Provence
- 14 oz tomato sauce such as tomato pasta sauce or marinara
- 6 oz spinach fresh
- 1 large fresh tomato chopped
- salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- red pepper flakes to taste
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. While the pasta cooks, proceed with the recipe below.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat in a large, high-sided skillet.
- Add crumbled sausage and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the sausage is cooked. Drain excess fat.
- To the same skillet with sausage, add minced garlic, Italian seasoning, tomato pasta sauce, and fresh spinach. Bring to a boil on medium heat and stir everything well. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes until the spinach wilts to your liking.
- Add cooked and drained pasta to the sauce. Add chopped fresh tomato. Reheat.
- Mix everything well. Remove from heat.
- Season with salt, freshly ground coarse black pepper, and red pepper flakes, if you like.
- Tip: use your best judgment about the salt. If the sausage is salty enough, you might not need to add any extra salt.
- Tomato sauce. It can be a store-bought tomato pasta sauce or marinara sauce. Any flavor will work: traditional, tomato basil, arrabbiata, or garlic tomato sauce.
- Sausage. I used mild Italian sausage. Italian sausage links can be used, too, with casings removed and sausage links sliced. You can also use sweet or spicy Italian sausage.
- Italian seasoning of Herbs from Provence. The mix that I used contained dried rosemary, thyme, parsley, tarragon, marjoram, basil, and sage.
- How to make it vegan? Use plant-based vegan sausage substitutes, such as the Beyond Sausage brand. And always make sure to check the labels of other ingredients.
- How to make it gluten-free? Use gluten-free short-shaped pasta, such as farfalle (bow-tie), fusilli, rigatoni, and penne. Also, check the labels of all the other ingredients you're using to ensure they are gluten-free.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.