Rich and comforting, this orecchiette with pork ragu is layered with lots of flavor and texture from the diced eggplant, herbs, garlic and red wine—it’s everything one craves in a delicious bowl of homemade pasta!
Orecchiette with Pork Ragu, “Little Ears” of Deliciousness
Nothing is more precious to me when it comes to food than when a dish is both whimsical and divinely scrumptious. It simply makes the dining experience that much more playful and enjoyable!
And this orecchiette with pork ragu is just such an exquisite dish.
Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian, and this fun little variety of pasta indeed looks just like little ears, perfectly shaped to hold little bits of pork and eggplant from the savory pork ragu, along with the glossy and rich sauce.
Orecchiette and hearty pork ragu are a match made in heaven. This rich combination makes for the perfect bowl of spoonable comfort, and an irresistibly meaty and hearty pasta extravaganza!
A Rich Pork Ragu to Go with Tender Orecchiette
One of my favorite things to cook and eat is a nice, rich meaty ragu served over top of tender pasta with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and some freshly grated cheese.
This is pretty much the epitome of “comfort food” for me.
And what I love about a dish like this is that it’s basically a one-pan preparation that requires only a bit of patience from me before I’m partaking in a gloriously flavorful and pleasurable meal.
I love to make my pork ragu fairly substantial, filled with lots of complex layers and textures. So I opt to prepare it with the addition of diced and caramelized eggplant, a hefty amount of garlic and onion, a generous pinch of seasoning and spice, and even some red wine.
This delicious concoction simmers together for about 40 minutes to allow those deep and nuanced flavors to marry before the tender and delicate orecchiette pasta is added directly into the pan, becoming slathered in all of that glossy richness.
The pork ragu lends some heartiness, and the orecchiette adds that tender-yet-toothsome bite; and together, this wonderful combination is then best served up in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, which makes it so rustic and cozy!
How to Make Orecchiette with Pork Ragu
In order to create the most flavor possible, I like to use ground pork and season it myself.
I then build the ragu layer by layer in the pan, giving it some time for the flavors to mingle and deepen before adding my cooked orecchiette pasta in at the end.
Here’s my method:
- I mix together my ground pork with some salt, pepper, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic and dried oregano, and set aside for a moment.
- With a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat, I add in some olive oil, and sauté my diced eggplant and onions.
- When caramelized and golden, I remove the veggies from the pan and hold them on a plate while I brown my seasoned ground pork for a few minutes in the pan I just used.
- I then add back into the pan the eggplant and onion mixture, along with garlic and then wine, followed by the diced tomatoes (with their juice).
- I leave my lid slightly askew and allow the ragu to simmer for about 45 minutes until rich and thickened.
- Then, while the ragu is cooking, I cook my orecchiette until al dente, and keep it warm.
- To finish things up, I add fresh herbs to my pork ragu, and then add in the cooked orecchiette pasta, and fold together. I drizzle over a touch more olive oil, spoon into my bowl, and garnish with grated asiago cheese.
Tips & Tidbits for Orecchiette with Pork Ragu:
- Ground pork: I use ground pork for this recipe, and season it myself; however, you can substitute spicy pork sausage as well (just remove it from the casing). You can also substitute ground beef, turkey, or chicken, if you prefer.
- Wine for depth: The addition of red wine in this pork ragu is delicious, but feel free to leave it out if you prefer.
- Time to simmer: Allowing the pork ragu to simmer for 45 minutes creates a bit more body and depth to the sauce, and allows the eggplant to sort of melt into it. Patience creates more flavor! 😉
- Cooking the orecchiette pasta: Because of the shape of the orecchiette, they tend to stick to each other a little bit when cooking. I like to add a good drizzle of olive oil into my salted water for the cooking of it, and stir the pasta well right after pouring it into the boiling water (as well as occasionally during the cooking process).
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
Orecchiette with Pork Ragu
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 4
Nutrition Info: 527 calories
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
• 1/2 pound ground pork
• Black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
• 1/4 teaspoon (more or less depending on taste) red pepper flakes
• 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press, divided use
• 1 teaspoon dry oregano
• Olive oil
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 4 very small (Italian) eggplants, diced into small 1/2” cubes
• 1/3 cup red wine
• 1 (28 ounce / 794 gram) can San Marzano diced tomatoes
• 8 ounces orecchiette 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, about ¼ teaspoon of salt, about 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, the fennel seeds, the red pepper flakes, 1 clove of the pressed garlic, and 1/4 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 to the pan, followed by little chunks of the ground seasoned pork, sort of “crumbling” them in (you want to keep the meat slightly chunky and not have it completely “melt” into the sauce).
-Sauté the pork in the oil, gently moving it with a spoon to brown for about 4-5 minutes; then, add the eggplant/onion mixture back into the pan with the pork, adding another pinch of salt and 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 bits on the bottom of the pan.
-Add in the diced San Marzano tomatoes and the remaining dried oregano and stir; place the lid slightly askew on the braiser/pan, and simmer on low for 45 minutes until thickened.
-During the last 20 minutes or so that the ragu cooks, cook the orecchiette 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.
-Add the cooked pasta directly into the sauce and stir to combine, then serve in bowls garnished with a generous amount of the grated asiago cheese.
Cook’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012, and has been updated with even more love!