Orecchiette With Eggplant And Pork Ragu, The Little Ears That Comfort

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

It started out as several sneezes in a row, coupled with some mild shoulder and upper arm muscle aches, and a slight wash of weakness and tiredness. Though I dismissed it as perhaps not having enough sleep, or just my body’s way of trying to adjust to the weather not being able to make its mind up in regards to the wild swings in temperatures here in southern California, I secretly knew better and a mild dread loomed over me. Sure enough, my confirmation came several hours later that I indeed was getting sick when the congestion set in, and my head began feeling like I was on a flight about to descend, ears popping and sinuses stuffy. Not fun. I really don’t like being sick; but then again, who in the world does? I’m beginning to think that perhaps it’s just the amazing human body’s own sneaky little way of imposing rest, albeit in an uncomfortable way, and reminding me that I have very real limitations; that maybe I need a little extra nurture and TLC, and that perhaps, I need to listen to myself a little better. Leave it to the “little ears” to show me that.

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

My robe, my blanket and the couch became my good friends when the vulnerability that goes along with not feeling well really took effect. It was no fun that hugs and kisses temporarily became a “no-no” as to not spread the cooties around to the rest of my family, and that hearty laughs and general giddiness were placed on hold because there was just no energy there for that. In the midst of being under the weather, I felt my desire to get better become so very strong, because I so desperately missed all of those precious little things that take place during the course of any ordinary day when I’m well; the little things that are often taken for granted—like being able to nurture my loved ones with a simple meal, or taking a walk in the morning sun—are what I found that I craved the most. And though my appetite was not particularly at it’s strongest while I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t help but crave something that would offer warmth, coziness and soothing comfort to lift my spirits and energize me over the next couple of days; and pasta seemed to be the answer. Taking my sweet time, I prepared some orecchiette in a hearty, saucy, caramelized eggplant and spicy pork ragu, and my, was it good; my belly was happy. The bowl was warm in my hands, and each flavorful spoonful contained the glossy sauce that clung to and coated each individual little “ear” that just seemed to listen to my inner woe, and sooth me. As I ate, I couldn’t help but think about these “little ears”, these orecchiette, and the idea of listening; listening to what the soft whisper inside speaks to me, to what my body says to me about slowing down, to the truth that can be overlooked in the busyness of a day. It made me question just how well I listen, indeed; and I wondered, just a little, if some of how I was feeling could’ve been avoided, or slightly lessened at least.

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

Though I’m still a little vulnerable, I’m now well on the road to being fully myself, once again. Oh, am I ever so grateful! Getting sick this time around in particular made me think about the pace of my life just a little bit more; it made me realize that perhaps things don’t have to come to utter misery before I provide myself with some nurture and TLC. Of course it doesn’t mean that I expect to never be under the weather again, but I know that if I can at least help myself out and be a bit more kind, that I should; not only for my own benefit, but for those that I love (and love to nurture) so very much, too. Funny how a cozy little bowl of orecchiette pasta in savory ragu can inspire such things.

Taste what’s good and pass it on.


Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu

Orecchiette Pasta With Caramelized Eggplant and Spicy Pork Ragu
Print this recipe

(Serves about 4)


½ pound ground pork
1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt, divided use
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
¼ teaspoon (more or less depending on taste) red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
1 teaspoon dry oregano
• Drizzles olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 Italian eggplants (small variety), diced into small, ½” cubes
1/3 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can San Marzano diced tomatoes
8 ounces Orecchiette pasta (“little ear” shaped pasta), about half a package
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Asiago cheese for garnish


-In a medium-size bowl, add the ground pork, ¼ teaspoon of the sea salt, ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper, the red pepper flakes, 1 clove of the pressed garlic and ¼ teaspoon of the dry oregano, and mix well with fingers to combine; set aside.

-Place a heavy-bottom braiser or large pan over medium-high heat, and add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to it; once the oil is hot, add in the onion and the eggplant, and sauté/caramelize for about 6 minutes until a light golden color; once caramelized, remove the eggplant/onion mixture with a slotted spoon, and set aside for a moment; next, add another little drizzle of olive oil, and the ground seasoned pork to the pan by taking little chunks and crumbling them in (you want to keep the meat slightly chunky and not have it completely “melt” into the sauce); gently sauté the pork in the oil, gently moving it with a spoon to brown, but not break up, for about 4-5 minutes; next, add the eggplant/onion mixture back into the pan with the pork, add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, as well as the remaining 3 cloves of pressed garlic; stir the mixture together gently, and then add the wine in, scraping up the good, browned bit on the bottom of the braiser/pan; next, add in the diced San Marzano tomatoes and the remaining dry oregano, stir, and place the lid slightly askew on the braiser/pan, and simmer on low for 45 minutes until thickened.

-During the last 20 minutes that the Ragu cooks, cook the Orecchiette pasta according to package instructions; once cooked, drain the pasta, and drizzle with some olive oil to keep it from sticking; leave it in the colander covered with a kitchen towel to keep warm until the sauce is finished.

-Once the Ragu has simmered, turn the heat off, and add the chopped fresh oregano and parsley, and stir to combine; next, add the cooked pasta directly into the sauce and gently fold the pasta with the Ragu; once the pasta is well coated with the sauce, spoon equal amounts into bowls, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and garnish with a generous amount of the grated Asiago cheese.

{ 24 comments… add one }

  • Nicole Waterman October 19, 2012, 5:35 am

    This looks delicious, amazing pictures too.

  • Isabelle @ Crumb October 19, 2012, 8:53 am

    This looks like a wonderful meal for an otherwise crummy day.
    I normally rely on a big bowl of soup to make me feel better whenever I’m under the weather, but this pasta looks like it would be a pretty great alternative… especially if it’s extra-spicy to clear the sinuses. :)

  • Julia October 23, 2012, 9:15 am

    This pasta dish looks so good! It has been rainy here in Chicago and a big bowl of this is just what I need!

    • The Cozy Apron October 23, 2012, 12:24 pm

      Thanks, Julia! This truly is such a comforting dish, and perfect for cold, rainy Chicago weather; I promise you that your belly would thank you if you gave this one a try.

  • Lauren November 3, 2012, 5:37 am

    I’m not a pasta fan (it just doesn’t do anything for me) so I made the ragu and served over slides of pan fried summer squash. This was also a way to enjoy this hearty meal whilst still experiencing 90 degree weather in Tucson (btw, I think the ragu would be excellent cold). I did not have a chance to go to the market to buy the smaller Italian eggplant, so I used a large eggplant – which I think was somewhat of a mistake texture-wise (not bad, but it wasn’t great), and next time I make this, I’ll make sure to have the smaller eggplant. I happened to have some fennel microgreens from my CSA that I sprinkled on top – that was really nice!

    And the pork was great! I think I missed the starchy sweetness of the pasta, though, so with the leftovers I’m going to try serving over roasted butternut squash or potatoes (I have a MOUND sitting on my counter from my CSA). Thanks for the recipe, I’ll look forward to making it again in the future!

    • The Cozy Apron November 3, 2012, 5:48 pm

      Hi Lauren, looks like you found an excellent way to enjoy this dish specific to your likes — thanks for sharing!

  • Cookingcutie11 March 13, 2013, 5:12 pm

    This was really good and rustic. I used sweet sausage instead of the ground pork, and added extra dried oregano and thyme. The eggplant paired nicely with the sausage. Yum!

  • The Cozy Apron March 13, 2013, 5:47 pm

    Sounds delicious! Thank you so much for coming back to share your take on the recipe – glad you enjoyed it!

  • Amy Cardinal April 23, 2013, 10:16 am

    Do you think this would be ok with a regular large eggplant chopped up the same size? I’m not a huge eggplant person but got one in my food co-op and wanted to find a use.

    • The Cozy Apron April 23, 2013, 11:49 am

      Hi Amy! Yes, definitely use whatever eggplant you have available to you, chopping it up into the small pieces as you said. And even though you’re not necessarily an “eggplant person”, I think you’ll enjoy this dish with the combo of ingredients as the eggplant cooks down nicely into the ragu. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Becky Stock July 4, 2013, 6:57 pm

    Happy 4th of July! Since ours was a wet one and couldn’t grill out, I chose your pasta dish and so glad I did. It was delicious! I had mild Italian sausage links which I took out of their casings and used a large eggplant and both worked fine in your recipe. I will be making this again for sure.

    • The Cozy Apron July 5, 2013, 7:30 am

      Excellent, Becky! Sorry for the wet weather on your 4th of July; but it sounds like you had a cozy meal in spite of it, and I’m thrilled that this dish is something that you’ll be cooking up again!

  • Linda Keirle February 9, 2014, 12:16 pm

    Just prepared this luscious dish but doubled the recipe. Smells divine and can’t wait to eat it! Thanks Ingrid!

    • The Cozy Apron February 9, 2014, 9:08 pm

      Linda, that’s great! I truly hope you did enjoy this, indeed; thank you so much for stopping by to share!

  • Linda Keirle February 10, 2014, 7:49 am

    Ingrid, you made me a star! My granddaughter said I should open a restaurant! This dish was fantastic and I can’t wait to eat it again. Thanks again, Ingrid.

    • The Cozy Apron February 10, 2014, 5:08 pm

      Linda, I was really hoping that you’d come back to share with me the end results of your time in the kitchen preparing this recipe! Oh, I’m so happy—what a wonderful thing to have your granddaughter say to you, and what a wonderful grandma you are for preparing, certainly with much love, this comfy and warming meal. Thank you for letting me know—I truly appreciate it!

  • Sharon Pike December 29, 2014, 7:51 am

    I made this last night and oh my goodness it was crazy good! The flavors are perfect! I am so glad I didn’t substitute italian sasauge, the little pork bites are perfectly seasoned! I did however substitute regular eggplant, it’s what I had….I thought it worked fine…..

  • The Cozy Apron December 29, 2014, 3:57 pm

    Sharon, that’s so great! Thanks so much for taking a moment to comment on your experience!

  • Charity March 3, 2015, 9:36 am

    Hey there! I am newer to cooking and find myself very drawn to this recipe. I have a couple questions though.

    1) Is it doable for a newer cook?
    2) Is there a way to make it mild for a sensitive stomach?

    • The Cozy Apron March 3, 2015, 1:27 pm

      Hi Charity! I’m very excited for you, and want to give you a resounding “yes!” when it comes to your first question. Just go slow, and follow the instructions—you’ll be just fine! Remember: it’s only cooking. :-) (And you especially should prepare this if you’re feeling “drawn” to it, as you put it! I think you’ll be glad you did.) As far as your second question, just leave out the red chili paper flakes completely, if you’re sensitive. There’s nothing else spicy in the ingredients, so you should be fine. Please let me know how things turn out! Hope you enjoy…

  • Dianne April 14, 2015, 6:17 pm

    I was going to make spicy pork and eggplant stir-fry but I just wasn’t in the mood for the spicy, sweetish, peanutty sauce that I usually make. So, I looked around online for something different using the key ingredients that I had on hand.

    Voila! My google-fu led me here. This was delicious! I had some produce that I wanted to use up before going away for a long weekend so instead of the chopped onion, I used a leek and a small bunch of green onions that I had on hand. I also used two regular eggplants that I had.

    It was a wonderfully tasty meal. Thanks!

    • The Cozy Apron April 14, 2015, 7:27 pm

      Dianne, so glad you decided to honor your cravings (or in this case, honor what you weren’t craving) and take the time to find this (new) recipe! So glad you enjoyed it. And a really perfect opportunity to use up some of those items that you already had. Thanks for sharing with me!

  • LovelyMadness August 8, 2015, 9:30 pm

    Made this tonight, but did not have the little ears so served over angel hair. SO good. Leftovers will be used on pizza this week. Found you on Pinterest. Thank you so much for this, I have eggplants from the garden and this was just what we needed. Hubs had seconds.

    • The Cozy Apron August 9, 2015, 2:50 pm

      Hi there! So glad you enjoyed this recipe, and that you’ve even got some leftovers for pizza! Thanks so much for your comments—the eggplants fresh from your garden must be amazing!

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