Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is a traditional Italian pasta recipe from Apulia that combines sautéed broccoli rabe with delicious ear-shaped orecchiette pasta.

You’ll love this recipe because it’s easy, comforting, and nutritious. Plus, we’ll show you how to transform it into a satiating high-protein vegetarian meal by adding plant-based sausage.

Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe is an excellent family dinner that will satiate your most indulgent Italian food cravings while eating plenty of nourishing leafy greens.

orecchiette with broccoli rabe and a silver fork

Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian and vegan diet.

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What are Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe?

orecchiette with a silver fork and homemade breadcrumb topping

Orecchiette, translated as small ears in Italian, is an ear-shaped pasta from the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Basilicata.

Like most other Italian dry pasta types, orecchiette is suitable for a vegetarian and vegan diet as they are made with durum wheat flour, water, and without eggs.

This orecchiette with broccoli rabe recipe will remind you of our Broccoli pasta and Kale pasta, two creamy, flavor-packed pasta dishes you guys loved!

Like many of our other pasta recipes, this, too, will help you eat more veggies in a delicious, comforting, and simple way.

Think of our cherry tomato pasta, tagliatelle with lentil bolognese, pasta e fagioli, hummus pasta, and pasta alla Norma. They are all delicious, wholesome and easy-to-make pasta dishes suitable for a hungry family.

broccoli rabe on a white surface

The broccoli rabe in this recipe, also known as rapini or cime di rapa in Italian, is a nutritious leafy green vegetable whose flavor will remind you of sautéed kale and broccoli.

Here, we sauté rapini in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes to soften its texture, remove the bitterness, and transform it into a delicious pasta sauce.

We’ll also show you how to add plant-based sausage to boost the protein content of this dish, turning it into a tasty, complete, and satisfying meal with the perfect balance of texture and taste.

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe video

Ingredients & Substitutions for Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

ingredients for orecchiette with broccoli rabe

Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Orecchiette Pasta

You can find orecchiette in most supermarkets in dried form.

They are made with durum wheat flour, water, and without eggs, and like most types of dry Italian pasta, are suitable for a vegetarian and vegan diet.

Substitute fusilli, rotini, trofie, conchiglie, farfalle, and rigatoni for orecchiette.

Broccoli Rabe

You can use fresh or frozen broccoli rabe or rapini.

Substitute broccoli florets for broccoli rabe. In this case, I’d recommend checking out our broccoli pasta recipe.

Extra virgin olive oil

We use extra virgin olive oil to cook the broccoli rabe and make the pasta sauce.

Substitute regular olive oil for extra virgin.

Red chili peppers

Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe is mildly spicy.

You can use a finely chopped fresh red chili pepper for spiciness.

Substitute red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper for the fresh chili pepper.

Garlic

Fresh garlic. Crush it for a mild garlic flavor. Mince, grate, or press it for a more pronounced garlic flavor.

Salt & Black pepper

We recommend sea salt or kosher salt for the sauce and pasta water. Black pepper is to add character to the plant-based sausage.

Plant-Based Sausage

The traditional Italian orecchiette recipe with broccoli rabe adds anchovies for a rich, savory flavor.

We prefer to add sausage to increase the protein content of this pasta dish and turn it into a main meal.

We use plant-based sausage that we find in our local supermarkets. This way, we keep the saturated fats in check while adding nutritious plant-based protein.

Italian breadcrumbs

Apulia was a poor region where people couldn’t afford parmesan cheese imported from northern Italy until modern days.

The locals relied on breadcrumbs toasted in extra virgin olive oil (abundant in the region) and garlic to sprinkle on pasta.

We think that’s a delicious way of adding flavor and crunch while keeping the recipe dairy-free, so we recommend it.

Substitute grated parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, or vegan parmesan cheese for the breadcrumbs.

Lemon juice (optional)

Lemon juice is optional. A squeeze on top is welcomed to add some freshness, but know that this is not common in the original Italian recipe.

orecchiette with a silver fork and homemade breadcrumb topping

How to Make Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Clean the broccoli rabe

Note: Skip this step if your broccoli rabe is already washed and ready to use or frozen.

Trim and discard the thicker stems of the broccoli rabe.

Rinse the leaves and florets with water to remove dirt and chop them into smaller pieces.

hands and pairing knife trimming stems of broccoli rabe

Sauté the broccoli rabe

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add peeled and crushed garlic and a finely chopped red chili pepper.

white skillet with oil, garlic and chili

Sauté for 1 minute until fragrant, then add the broccoli rabe. You might have to do that in batches if your pan is not large enough.

broccoli rabe in a skillet

Season with salt, add 1/2 cup of water, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the broccoli rabe is tender.

broccoli rabe after releasing water in a white skillet

Boil the pasta

While the broccoli rabe cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the salt, then the pasta.

Boil uncovered as per package instruction minus one minute.

orecchiette and a wooden spoon in a white pot

Prep sausage & breadcrumbs

Note: Plant-based sausage requires cooking separately because it gets soggy if cooked with vegetables.

To a non-stick pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic.

Peel the plant-based sausage, then break it into small bite-sized pieces.

Add it to the pan, season with black pepper to taste, and sauté on medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until browned outside. Set aside on a plate.

plant-based sausage in a black skillet

In the same pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil and a clove of crushed garlic.

Add the breadcrumbs and sauté on medium-low heat for two minutes or until golden. Stir the bread crumbs mixture often with a wooden spoon.

Tip: You can skip this step by substituting grated parmesan or vegan cheese for the breadcrumbs.

breadcrumbs, olive oil and garlic frying in a black sklillet

Toss the pasta with the veggies

Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the orecchiette and add them to the broccoli rabe.

Add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking water and finish cooking on medium heat while stirring for about a minute or until there’s no more water in the pan.

You can add more extra virgin olive oil if you wish.

orecchiette and broccoli rabe mixing in a white skillet with hands

Serving Suggestions

Taste and adjust for salt before serving.

Make it a complete and nourishing meal by topping it with plant-based sausage and toasted breadcrumbs.

Optionally, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

orecchiette with sausage, broccoli and breadcrumbs in a white plate

Tips

How to work with plant-based sausage?

We tested this with several brands of plant-based sausage, and they all worked beautifully, but with one catch: for best results, cook the sausage separately from the veggies.

When cooking the sausage in the same pan with the broccoli rabe, the sausage absorbed the cooking water and was too soggy for our taste.

Cooking it separately with olive oil, garlic, and black pepper makes it crisp and gives it a meatier bite.

How to cook pasta?

You’ll need a large pot of salted water as follows:

  • 8 ounces of pasta (230 grams): cook pasta in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups or 2 Liters) with 1 tablespoon of salt (15 grams). Serves 2 – 3 people.
  • 12 ounces of pasta (340 grams): cook pasta in 3 quarts of boiling water (12 cups or 3 Liters) with 1 ½ tablespoons of salt (21 grams). Serves 4 people.
  • 1 pound of pasta (450 grams): cook pasta in 1 gallon of boiling water (16 cups or 4 Liters) with 2 tablespoons of salt (30 grams). Serves 5-6 people.

Storage & Make Ahead

Make ahead: Like most pasta dishes, this recipe is not the best for meal prep. We save leftovers for the day after, but we wouldn’t cook this for meal prep as pasta is best shortly after it is cooked.

Refrigerator: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 36 hours.

Freezer: We don’t recommend freezing orecchiette with broccoli rabe.

Reheat: Reheat in the microwave or on a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil.

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orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage

Orecchiette With Broccoli Rabe

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 6 votes
Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is a traditional Italian pasta recipe from Puglia that combines sautéed broccoli rabe with delicious ear-shaped orecchiette pasta.
You’ll love this recipe because it’s easy, comforting, and nutritious. Plus, we’ll show you how to transform it into a satiating high-protein vegetarian meal by adding plant-based sausage.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: Main
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 fresh red chili or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes.
  • 2 pounds broccoli rabe fresh or frozen.
  • ½ teaspoon salt or more to taste.
  • 12 ounces orecchiette pasta + 3 quarts/12 cups/3 Liters water and 1½ tablespoons/21 grams sea salt.
  • 2 plant-based sausages 3.2oz/90 grams each + 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, and 2 twists of black pepper.
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs + 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 clove of garlic.

Instructions 

  • Skip this step if your broccoli rabe is washed and ready to use or frozen.
    Trim the thicker stems of 2 pounds broccoli rabe.
    Rinse the leaves and florets and chop them into smaller pieces.
    broccoli rabe in a sift
  • Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, add 2 cloves garlic (crushed) and 1 fresh red chili (finely chopped) and sauté for 1 minute.
    Add the broccoli rabe, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ cup water, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender.
    broccoli rabe after releasing water in a white skillet
  • In the meantime, cook 12 ounces orecchiette pasta in a large pot with salted boiling water as per package instructions minus 1 minute.
    Then peel 2 plant-based sausages, break them into small bite-sized pieces and sauté them in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 clove crushed garlic for 5 minutes or until browned.
    Remove from the pan and set aside.
    plant-based sausage in a black skillet
  • In the same pan, toast ½ cup breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 clove crushed garlic for two minutes, or until golden and crisp.
    breadcrumbs, olive oil and garlic frying in a black sklillet
  • Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the orecchiette, and add them to the broccoli rabe.
    Add ½ cup of reserve pasta water and finish cooking while tossing until the water is absorbed.
    You can add more extra virgin olive oil if you wish.
    orecchiette and broccoli rabe mixing in a white skillet with hands

MAKE IT A MEAL

  • Serve with plant-based sausage and toasted breadcrumbs on top.
    Optionally, add a squeeze of lemon.
    orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe and breadcrumbs in a white plate

Video

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for 1 serving of orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe out of 4 servings.
STORAGE & MAKE AHEAD
Make ahead: Like most pasta dishes, this recipe is not the best for meal prep. We save leftovers for the day after, but we wouldn’t cook this for meal prep as pasta is best shortly after it is cooked.
Refrigerator: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 36 hours.
Freezer: We don’t recommend freezing orecchiette with broccoli rabe.
Reheat: Reheat in the microwave or on a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil.
ALSO ON THIS PAGE

Nutrition

Calories: 609kcal, Carbohydrates: 84g, Protein: 32g, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 810mg, Dietary Fiber: 11g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 5949IU, Vitamin B6: 18mg, Vitamin C: 47mg, Vitamin E: 5mg, Vitamin K: 515µg, Calcium: 291mg, Folate: 218µg, Iron: 16mg, Manganese: 2mg, Magnesium: 101mg, Zinc: 3mg
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If you liked this orecchiette with broccoli rabe, you might also enjoy:


Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

Easy right?

5 from 6 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating




4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Hi Nico and Louise! I made this last night for our anniversary dinner and it was really good. I have a question and a suggestion:
    Question: How would you modify the cooking process for storebought, dried orecchiette?
    Suggestion: you may want to change the “If you use broccoli rabe or regular broccoli, then only use the florets and remove most of the stem” to use florets and leaves of broccoli rabe or florets of broccoli- I bought 1 kg of broccoli rabe at the supermarket and would have gotten very few actual florets out of it, like 4 or 5 tiny florets. I used the whole thing minus the stems.

    1. Hi Chad,
      Thanks so much for your comment, within the next 1-2 weeks, we will redo and update this recipe, so you’ll have the option to make it with store-bought broccoli (and cook with the stem of the veggies). Thanks so much for the feedback, I really appreciate it. Cheers, Nico

  2. 5 stars
    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site
    is excellent,as well as the content.