In the world of pasta, there is an abundance of fun shapes, both whimsical and often strategically paired with sauces and other add-ins. Whether opting for farfalle “butterflies," rotelle “wheels,” our childhood favorite, or our recent amusement, gemelli “twins,” there is a shape for any palate. While long, flat pastas mesh well with smooth sauces, shaped pastas best capture textured sauces.
In Florence, we first tried orecchiette “small ears,” and they oddly enough appear to be just that. The small concave circles pair perfectly with one of our family’s favorite fall-time vegetables, Brussels sprouts. After frying some pancetta, we throw in the vibrant green halved spheres and let them crisp and caramelize slightly with sauteed onions. Bubbling away on the stove, all the flavors come together for a vibrant, lemony, fresh sauce. In every forkful, the nooks of the pasta hold in the bits of smoky pancetta and citrusy Brussels sprouts.
Orecchiette with Lemony Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta
1 1b orecchiette
6 oz pancetta, finely diced
2 T EVOO plus more for drizzling
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 lb Brussels sprouts, ends removed and halved
1 1/2 c chicken broth
zest and juice of of 1 lemon
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
salt and pepper throughout
While boiling salted water in a large pot for the pasta, heat a large cast iron skillet on medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes. Spoon out the pancetta from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add 2 T EVOO. Add the onion and sautee until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and Brussels sprouts and sautee for an additional 3 minutes. Meanwhile, add the orecchiette to the boiling salted water.
Add the chicken broth to the skillet and let simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are slightly browned and the broth has reduced. Add the reserved pancetta, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the skillet and stir. Once the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the skillet and toss with the sauce for a couple minutes. Serve with a drizzle of EVOO and fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Serves 4-6.
Thick or thin, fluted or spiraled, ribboned or compact, we could go on forever!